Kevin Higgins: Find Your Shine
Kevin Higgins is one of those guys who’s been around music all his life but taken a lot of time to find his muse and his metier. It’s one of the better aspects of the whole Americana music scene that guys like this can find a musical home. In reading up about him, I found somewhere a quote from his wife and musical partner, Barbara Malteze, to the effect that she encouraged him to abandon writing for some presumed market but to write instead to please himself. Well as a piece of advice that sure worked. His songwriting has a quality that reminds me of hearing Lucinda Williams for the first time. It’s not that he’s entirely torn up the rulebook; not at all, for these are well polished pieces of work, but what he has done is to find his own language so that he ends up sounding like Kevin Higgins and not anybody else.
Having got himself a bunch of songs he teamed up with Austin producer Stephen Doster and a team of musicians that included Chip Dolan, fast becoming a respected name in this neighbourhood, and here we have Find Your Shine , a very fine record indeed. There’s warmth, honesty, empathy and a sense of drama in these songs, that all adds up to a distinctive voice. I particularly like the story in Levee Boys which recreates a memory of a Huck Finn-like childhood disrupted by an event that only reveals its troubling implications as the Levee Boys mature. They instinctively and good-naturedly give shelter to a new neighbour who has suffered at the hands of his violent father. The police come calling, they own up to hiding the boy and he is then taken away. Shortly after, the family disappear one night, leaving the Levee Boys to wonder whether their intervention helped or harmed their new friend. That’s a small story but a big subject and demonstrates a poet’s eye for the events in life that have real significance.
The song that opens this album, Out In The Fields, is drama of the first order as a farmer caught out on the further reaches of his farm sees the twister coming in and, fearing desperately for his family at home apparently in the path of onrushing destruction, prays ferociously for the storm to take him rather than them. West Texas Aggregate deals with the love-hate relationship you can have with your home town and your own folk; from their point of view it’s “get out, get right or get on with it”; from his point of view it’s a case of “this is my home, this is my place, these are my folk, despite what they say”. It’s a really good song, and it’s married to a really memorable hook and a big sound from the band.
For me, it’s the first six songs that really make this album and after that it seems to drift away a bit; sometimes music in any genre – and I mean the music, the way it’s played, rather than the songs – can be a bit, well, generic and I can’t help feeling this is sometimes the case here and that there might be more impact if it was occasionally stripped back to the man and his guitar or played by a band who had honed the songs through fifty nights on the road together. Still, it’s a very fine bunch of songs and Kevin Higgins is one more Texan singer-songwriter worth paying attention to.