Saturday, November 10th, 2007
There’s a great temptation when describing Haligonian Rebekah Higgs to invoke the name of a certain ubiquitous Canadian chanteuse who also has a marvelous voice, a penchant for looped vocals and red hollowbody electric guitars, but I will do my best to resist.
When discussing her self-titled debut, it’s easy – rather than eliciting comparison to she-who-won’t-be-named, Higgs recalls the whole grand genre of female singer-songwriters from around 1994 or so to present day with ten tracks ranging from piano balladry to pure pop built from a folkish baseline that reveals her Maritime origins. What sets Higgs above and apart, beyond a consistently high level of songwriting, are two things. One is the production, which is crisp and clean but also casts a pleasant, Nigel Godrich-like sheen over things. The touches are subtle – some delay pedal glitchery here, some keyboard washes there – but the overall effect is quite effective. It’s takes the slightly fairy tale atmosphere of Higg’s songs and makes the woodland creatures tiny robots… if that makes any sense.
The other factor is Higgs’ voice, or more specifically, her phrasing. When it comes to vocals, I’m a big believer that phrasing is everything – it can make an unremarkable voice interesting and a great voice amazing (or, conversely, the lack of it can make a great voice incredibly dull – see pretty much any “diva” on MuchMusic for evidence). And Higgs has both a great voice and phrasing. Her delivery has a guarded – perhaps wounded – and knowing tone to it that when combined with her sing-songy melodies, intrigues and gives the sense of much more going on under the surface. The more you listen, the more you want to know.
I also had the opportunity to catch a her play a showcase set on Thursday night before her proper gig at the Tiger Bar and came away with more of a work in progress impression. Playing with just a bassist and drummer, she did her best to recreate the textures of the record with processed mics and a tickle trunk of various loopers and effector devices but in juggling all the technology and trying to get everything in its right place the songs fell out of focus. A little digging shows that her live band sometimes has more manpower to it so perhaps this was a make-do configuration and not reflective of what she can really do live. But either way, full marks for effort if not execution and I look forward to seeing her make it up in the future.