Gary Higgins is a folk singer who worked with a number of bands before being incarcerated in 1973 on a drug charge. Before sentencing, he recorded this album, Red Hash, and disappeared from the music scene after. It wasn’t till the mid 2000s that record label Drag City was able to find and contact Gary, to get this album in circulation again. When I first listened to this album I had no idea, but it still stood out among 70s Folk albums despite it’s history.
Thicker Than a Smokey kicks off the album with some smooth acoustic guitars and Gary’s soft and gentle voice. It’s a very relatable song to me, a song about indecision of the future, and regret from the past. I saw a website putting his sound with Nick Drake and Iron & Wine, and I think those comparisons are very apt. It’s very gentle, intimate, melancholy, and hyptnotic. I think it all comes together especially on Telegraph Towers, where his sound is expanded a little bit with an upright bass as two guitars dance with each other.. it’s just enchanting and a little sad.
Actually my favorite song off the album changes with each listen. Now it’s I Pick Notes From the Sky, the piano melody with Gary’s more intense singing is a perfect match. I think this song makes me wish he recorded much more music, I think a full album with a more expanded sound would’ve been even better (even though I LOVE Red Hash). Down on the Farm is an unexpected change of pace, with Gary putting on his best Captain Beefheart/Howlin’ Wolf voice. It’s the only time in the album he does this but it doesn’t feel too random or pointless. Unable to Fly brings it back to the despondent feel of the rest of the album with a flute so gentle you might not notice it.
The rerelease from Drag City includes two more songs, Don’t Ya Know and Last Great Sperm Whale. They’re both fantastic songs like the rest of the album, but I wouldn’t call them essential to the experience. I’m very glad we have them though. This is an absolute classic Folk album, and it blows my mind that it was nearly forgotten about forever, with no one knowing about this for 40+ years. It makes me think of other great albums that the world has never heard before, just waiting to be rediscovered.