On the whole, reissues are reseved for obvious classics, and often come off as unnecessary or overdone. But that wasn’t the came with Gary Higgins’s Red Hash, the hidden ’70s gem that Drag City unearthed back in 2005. The album became a surprise hit for the label, and got Higgins back out on the road and writing. And the result of this rebirth is his new album, Seconds.
It’s hard to imagine how an artist goes about making a sophomore album 35 years after his debut, but hearing Higgins on this album makes it clear that he’s just plain into the music again. Like on Red Hash, his guitar playing is out front and on display here, and it is uniformly striking. The stringy solos on “Mister Blew” and the twangy layers of “When I Was Young” show Higgins as not only a nimble guitarist but also a stunning arranger. Despite a heavy reliance on acoustic guitar, the album never rests on one sound and feels fresh throughout.
Unfortunately, the songs that shape all these solid sounds don’t quite come together. Many of the songs feel stretched beyond their reach. “Demons,” a tale of waning friendship with someone who “snorts their coke line by line,” feels much longer than its four-minute running time. And “Ten-Speed,” pushing past the seven-minute mark, falls apart as it goes. The problem is that sure, these songs all shimmer and rest on a comforting, laid-back vibe. But in that loose sound Higgins seems to wander, rooting too long in the same soil rather than searching out new ground.
The ironic thing is that the longest song on the record, the 13-minute “5AM Trilogy,” is the best of the lot. But it works because it has three distinct and driving pieces. It moves from pastoral balladry to off-kilter instrumental to hushed confessional beautifully, and no one section outstays its welcome. And, unlike the other tracks, there’s a sense of melody in both the vocals and the guitar, where elsewhere on Seconds the six-string is left to carry the load.
It is, despite Seconds shortcomings, still great to hear something new from Gary Higgins. The sound here is often vital and full of an earnest joy that goes a long way. So even though the songs might not always hold up, you might find yourself being charmed by moments on Seconds, even as you’re reaching for your copy of Red Hash.