March Musings: The Flyin’ A’s, Alicia McGovern, Little Miss Higgins.

The Flyin’ A’s “Til They shut It Down”
Texan couple, Hilary and Stuart Adamson are the Flyin’ A’s, their name taken from a brand that was seared onto the hides of cattle many moons ago on Stuart Adamson’s family ranch. As such its an apt name because in common with their bovine forebears they can be described as shit kicking in the best sense. Aided and abetted by a fine crew including the great Lloyd Maines on pedal steel they deliver a fine set of songs that range from bar room belters to sobbing ballads all done in a fine Texan style. Ain’t that Something in particular has some wonderful Maines’ playing although he sprinkles magic all over the album. Adamson writes well and several of the songs could be comfortably grafted onto on any number of top selling country artists with the best example being One More Time which would just spill out of radio speakers. A cover of Joe Tex’s (I Want To) is a nitty gritty southern blues swamp while Jon Ims’ Good Luck is given a fantastic showing which should have radio programmers foaming at the lips.
With twang guitar, beer soaked sobs and shit kicking delivery this is a fine little album.

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Taking it down a notch Alicia McGovern’s Words Through The Season has been high on the Euro American chart for the past two months. Woody and rustic McGovern is one of those singers with a voice that is unconventional, brittle and occasionally cracked but which ultimately worms its way into the listener’s ear. In addition she plays some fine acoustic guitar and her songs are perfect examples of the craft. With a lineage going back to sixties icons such as Melanie up to modern day exemplars like Natalie Merchant McGovern delivers an album that is heartwarming in its simplicity with sympathetic and understated backing from Duke Levine, Brad Wentworth, Rob Jost and Daisy Castro. While all play with a light touch the delicate banjo on I Wanna Grow Old is excellent while the use of sitar on You Do Not Bring Me Flowers adds a slight exotic touch. McGovern writes well with the majority of the songs bittersweet meditations on love and its attendant problems although she has a fine, brittle Christmas song in The Holly and All . This song should be packed away and brought out each year along with the decorations. At times her songs are reminiscent of early Loudon Wainwright’s melancholic style.
The final cut, So Many Songs addresses the songwriter’s dilemma
“so many love songs we all sing/songs of birds with wide open wings/you think we’d have learned to do one or the other/either to love or to find better things/and all the songs still to be sung/all the days and nights still to come/to be filled with hands and heartaches/and star-hung moons and bring-down suns”
From start to finish a minor gem of an album.

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If you need a wake me up after the comfort blanket that is Through The Season then Canadian artist Little Miss Higgins’ Across The Plains might be just the thing. Sassy, sexy and in your face Higgins swings through a set of songs in a style that might best be described as swingtime jazz blues with its roots in Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith as well as latter day proponents like Maria Muldaur and early KD Lang.
With trombone, saxophone and clarinet carrying the swing element Higgins plays a mean guitar giving the songs a powerful engine room drive under the jazzy froth. Banjo and violin add a western swing style to some of the songssuch as Snowin’ Today: A lament For Luis Reil. The song that jumps out immediately is the mildly salacious Bargain Shop Panties where Higgins sings about her underwear choices but the passion behind songs such as The Tornado Song and Hope You Don’t Feel Blue prove that there is more to her than mere titillation. So Glad Your Whiskey Fits Inside My Purse is an excellent primer, opening with a faux scratched recording before Higgins launches into a brilliant tale of smuggling booze into a venue. The closing song, Slaughterhouse (Revisited) abandons the swing concept to deliver a mean and dirty blues thump that sounds like a cross between Ry Cooder. Taj Mahal and P.J. Harvey.
Little Miss Higgins is touring the UK soon and has a date in Edinburgh at the Leith Folk Club on 29th march. I reckon that she’ll put on a mighty fine show.

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