Gary Higgins, Jack Rose | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Gary Higgins, Jack Rose


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When his debut album, Red Hash, came out in a run of 2,500 copies back in 1973, folk rocker GARY HIGGINS was in jail, serving 13 months for selling hashish. He never released a second disc--after he was freed he returned to music as a hobby rather than a vocation--but earlier this year Drag City reissued Red Hash on CD, and Higgins is now a darling of the burgeoning neo-psych-folk community. Obscurity has no doubt fortified his cult following, just as it's worked wonders for Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs, but his record easily stands on its own merits. Over gorgeous acoustic arrangements Higgins delivers warmly melodic, introspective tunes whose lyrics unfold and dissolve like dream fragments: "I pick notes from the sky / An old plane go flyin' by / Don't know who got the right of way / I'll know someday, yeah," he sings on "I Pick Notes From the Sky." And he can be funny too--he switches from his usual breathy, low-key vocals to a gruff, quasi-Beefheart delivery for the ribald "Down on the Farm." This is his Chicago debut; he'll be accompanied by his 24-year-old son, Graham. --Peter Margasak

The new compilation CD Imaginational Anthem (Near Mint) places celebrated acoustic guitarists of yore like Sandy Bull, Max Ochs, and John Fahey alongside up-and-coming pickers like Harris Newman, Glenn Jones, and JACK ROSE. Rose's contribution, a live recording of "White Mule III," is one of the collection's roughest tracks, but thanks to his dramatic pacing and slashing attack it's also one of the most thrilling; he sounds entirely at home among the titans, inspired by but not beholden to them. The Philadelphia-based guitarist, also a member of the improvising quartet Pelt, has infused the Takoma Records school of lyrical Americana with the improvisational flow of Hindustani classical music, the crystalline overtones of minimalists like Charlemagne Palestine, and the heaviosity of blues-based classic rock to make music that conveys unfettered emotion with imperturbable self-confidence. Kensington Blues (VHF), his fourth and latest solo album, includes a pair of good-humored ragtime tunes and an Indian-tinged slide piece, "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown II," that builds inexorably from eerie stasis to an exhilarating climax. But the disc's high points are the passionate fantasias "Calais to Dover" and "Cross the North Fork"--though their melodies proceed from one startlingly gorgeous tableau to the next like a journey through an unexplored river valley, their elegant denouements prove that Rose knew exactly where he was going all along. --Bill Meyer

This show is part of the Two Million Tongues Festival; see page 18 for a complete schedule. Jackie-O Motherfucker headlines, Higgins plays third, Rose plays second, and Randall of Nazareth opens; Hardscrabble and Number None give "sideshow" performances between sets. Rose also plays Saturday at Spareroom; see separate Treatment item for details. Fri 11/4, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

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