In the world of reissues, Gary Higgins’s Red Hash is one of the great success stories. Given new light by Drag City in 2005, it proved a brilliant and surprisingly timeless folk record. 2009’s Seconds, though, Higgins first new music in over three decades, couldn’t capture the same lightning in a bottle. Songs plodded along, as did the overly long stories they told, and it all seemed like the days of Red Hash‘s bittersweet wandering had drifted away.
A Dream a While Back, though, turns out to be a smart move for Higgins. This six-track EP showcases recordings Higgins made in 1970 and 1971, honing his craft before he recorded Red Hash in 1973. The music—just Higgins and his guitar—was recorded at the Old Chestnut Inn in Kent, Connecticut, which later became a rehabilitation facility. There’s an irony there, since Higgins serves time on drug charges, but it may be more notable for the cathartic feel of these recordings. They’re dark, brooding numbers—“Stormy Weather” and “Waiting for You” are particularly haunting—that find the guitar ebbing and flowing through loose hooks, while Higgins’s voice wavers with deep emotion. Nothing here is quite as tuneful as the stuff on Red Hash, or as fully formed, but it’s a compelling set of early songs that show where his later, better stuff came from, as well as showing a raw, emotional purging of sound from an impressive player.