Reviews for 'River Of Mercy'
Paula Cooke for Americana-UK.com
This is the debut album from singer/songwriter Tim “Hogie” Higgins and features 12 tracks ranging in emotion from protest to tribute. Hailing from Warrington, he moved south and has played many a bar and club in the Big Smoke. The opening track, “Devil’s got his work to do” is a foot tapping number which, if this is anything to go by, bodes well for the rest of the album. Memorable songs, featuring a plethora of experienced musicians, are evident throughout. We are captivated by the sexy horn section on “Ballad of Santa Muerte”, a snaking, sensual mariachi style piece of writing and performance. Lost love, descent into highs and an achingly touching tribute to his mother are mixed in with comments about the inconsistencies of society. “Bloodline Royalty” falls under the latter category and it is delivered in a catchy, fast paced style which you can’t help but sing and dance along to. “Rome” is particularly poignant – it was inspired by the eulogy that he delivered at his mother’s funeral and both the lyrics and delivery are filled with great tenderness and love. Beautiful. Supported by a cast of talented musicians – producer and pianist Kenny Dickinson (KT Tunstall, Billy Bragg), C J Hillman (Billy Bragg), Luke Bullen (Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros), Angie Pollock (Goldfrapp), Arnulf Lindner (Ed Harcourt), Steve Weston (Wilco Johnson/Roger Daltry) and Noel Langley (Radiohead/Michael Nyman)- Hogie’s talent is allowed to shine. Well worth your support and ears. What will he produce next? Looking forward to it already!
Mike Morrison for Americanrootsuk.com
There is a warm comforting atmosphere to this quite addictive and melodic album of twenty first century country music. The whole thing oozes confidence on a recording that stylistically harks back to the 1950s, remarkable really, because not only is this his debut album, but Hogie is an Englishman from Warrington. His name is actually Tim ‘Hogie’ Higgins and not only is he an excellent songwriter but he is blessed with an appealingly melodic vocal style, a little reminiscent at times of an artist such as Chris Isaak.
There is excellent support from Kenny Dickenson, who produced and played piano and bass as well as backing vocals, CJ Hillman is on guitars and pedal steel, Luke Bullen on drums and percussion and Hogie himself on lead vocals and guitar. The harmonies are always way above average as is the sympathetic playing from all concerned on these twelve beautifully written Tim Higgins originals.
The album gets off to a promising start with Devil’s Got His Work To Do with its classic ‘country’ instrumentation including a weeping steel guitar that is quite dominant before Hogie comes in with his warm vocal on a melodic easy going song despite its deceptively quite dark lyrics. Ballad Of Santa Muerte is as near a perfect example of updated classic country music as you could wish for with a lovely twangy guitar, percussion that can almost be described as melodic and mariachi horns allowing Hogie’s warm expressive vocals to perfectly evoke a sad ‘country and western’ tale. Hogie’s melodic vocal links well with the melodicism of an easy rolling country song that tells an entertaining story on River Of Mercy, with an arrangement that works beautifully and harmonies that enhance the easy rolling nature of the song as does the occasional dobro on this excellent title track. Think Of Me is a sad mournful ballad of lost love with lovely melodic guitar and steel for company with piano, violin and cello adding depth to the mournful nature of the song. The lyrics are a variation on the self pitying ‘love lost because of my bad ways’ songs but the atmospheric arrangement lifts it above much of the ‘competition.’ Finally, the last track on the album gets under way with just Hogie’s lead vocal, with acoustic guitar and mandolin providing a little company on another excellent song. Eventually the instrumentation fills out the tale with violin, cello, harmonium and lovely harmonies on the chorus giving the song an atmosphere that may have been generated in an old western movie with perhaps Rick Nelson on vocals.
Musically it seems to me Hogie is well suited to this soft melodic country music with his warm comforting vocals, natural easy going charm, well written songs and excellent arrangements that enhance the melodicism making several of the songs virtual ‘ear worms.’ It is not a style that usually appeals to me but everything about this album is so strong that I have no fears about coming back to it again and again knowing it’s often dramatic songs and the overall warmth and melodicism will wrap itself around me! Buy it and you can expect it to do the same to you.
Tony Wilding for Fatea Magazine
Country/Americana flavoured debut from London based Hogie on “River Of Mercy”, a personal collection of songs written around the time his mother passed away and reflecting his conflicts with faith and belief. Hogie, aka Tim Higgins, boasts a varied career in the arts, including painting, photography, film and graphic design. Alongside this also spending time developing and honing his song-writing skills which started in a short-lived art college punk band. Hogie’s writing and comment on how he sees the world complete with all its inconsistencies and inequalities should not solely label him as a ‘protest singer’ as his lyrics also encompass moving tribulations of love and life and touched upon in the lyrics of ‘Rome’ which are adapted from the eulogy that he delivered at his mother’s funeral.
Chance meeting with producer Kenny Dickenson (KT Tunstall, Billy Bragg, Rumer) leading to collaboration with Dickenson on keyboards who also assembled renowned musicians CJ Hillman (Billy Bragg) on guitar & pedal steel, Luke Bullen (Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros) on drums, Angie Pollock (Goldfrapp) on backing vocals, Arnulf Lindner (Ed Harcourt) on cello, blues-harp legend Steve ‘West’ Weston (Wilco Johnson/Roger Daltrey) and trumpet maestro Noel Langley who provides haunting accompaniment in the mariachi of ‘Ballad Of Santa Muerte’.
Superbly crafted throughout ‘River Of Mercy’ visits gospel while allure of ‘Think Of Me’ conjures love’s dream. Idle hands, the devil’s work, brushed aside in toe-tapper ‘Devil’s Got His Work To Do’. Genre hopping remit fulfilled with the harmonica on the R&B of ‘Toe The Line’, spare two minutes to board the last train and enjoy the ride.
Martin Raybould for Whispering' & Hollerin'
Listening to this album is like catching up with an old buddy, sharing thoughts and memories with a friend you know you can trust.
Tim 'Hogie' Higgins is originally from up north but has since moved down south. His EP, Folk From The Smoke, produced by Mike Badger, was praised right here at Whisperin' & Hollerin' for its warmth and humanity. Four years on we have his debut album which has these same qualities.
This time around, the record was produced in London by Kenny Dickinson, a collaboration that came about after the two met by chance in Hogie's local pub.
This connection proves especially fortuitous since, not only does Dickinson play piano, but he has also gathered a fine group of musicians to help give greater range and variety to the twelve tracks.
The Hogie sound can broadly be classified as folk with a smattering of country swagger. Slide guitar, fiddle and dobro help lend many of the tunes an authentically Americana feel, notably on Devil's Got His Work To Do and Two Minutes, tunes which might have come straight out the Gram Parsons' songbook.
In addition, a gospel feel pervades the title track and there's even a bit of Mexican mariachi on Ballad Of Santa Muerte featuring Noel Langly on trumpet.
And then there are, of course, the songs of love and loss such as Inseparable ("So it seemed") and Think Of Me, a heartbreaking lament of a man fighting his demons, admitting his failings ("I know you think I'm a hopeless case") and trying to restore some measure of self respect.
The fact that tunes like these often strike a poignant note is due to the fact that they were written around the time of the passing of Hogie's mother. The album is dedicated to her memory and includes one particularly touching song, Rome, with lyrics adapted from a eulogy delivered at her funeral.
Other songs include ones about the drudgery of a workaday routine (Toe The Line), the importance of treating your woman right (Disappear From View), coming to terms with never being in line to the throne (Bloodline Royalty) and the injustices of living in Hard Times.
It closes with Old Time Song, a tender and compassionate tune offering words of comfort to a woman (or man?) who has turned to whiskey and pills to get through the day.
Despite the range of styles, this album benefits from a unifying character that is a tribute to Kenny Dickenson's no nonsense production skills but, above all, illustrates the maturity and depth of Hogie's song writing.
I recommend you pull up a chair, fill your glass and take a listen.
Review for 'Folk From The Smoke' EP (2012) by Tim Peacock for Whispering' & Hollerin'
Although he might well be new to you, HOGIE (aka Tim Higgins) has been ploughing an individualistic furrow in several artistic spheres - painting, photography and graphic design – in his adopted home base of London for over three decades now.
I say ‘adopted’ because Tim’s home town is actually Warrington and the lure of some northern solidarity drew him back to the North-West (more specifically Liverpool) to lay down the four emotive songs making up his debut EP ‘Folk From The Smoke’.
Of course it helps that he can rope in quality support from no less than Mike Badger, The Shady Trio and The Loose Moose String Band to bring these tunes to fruition. Yet while it’s true the raw, all-live, first take approach suits Higgins’ music to a T, it’s the fact that the songs are so resonant to begin with that ensures they score.
Recorded at Liverpool’s Crosstown Studio with engineer Jon Lawton on hand and Mike Badger in the producer’s chair, ‘Folk From the Smoke’ treats us to four heartfelt, quintessentially English slices of life where (refreshingly) people very much come first. Dreamer’s anthem ‘Holding out on Hope’ is the closest thing to a straight love song here, with Higgins delivering the bittersweet lyric (“your heart must be made of stone/ returning wilted flowers/ but I remain optimistic”) in his gravelly, Tom Waits-meets-Guy Kyser voice while the band supply a sympathetic, mellow country-folk stroll.
While the EP’s title track takes it at an equally mellow pace, the music’s languid swing does little to disguise the vitriol in Higgins’ lyric wherein he takes a well-aimed swipe at the Whitehall ‘haves’ determined to crush the rest of us with their enforced austerity. “They’d build a shiny temple to fit the shopping in/ but they’ll cut the Sunday services and every other day from therein” he sings with some feeling, yet without ever sounding preachy.
‘Too Many People’ and the closing ‘Winterland (Blues)’, meanwhile, are sparse and raw. The bedrock of both tracks is Higgins’ primitive acoustic strum and it’s perfect for the straight up plea for humanity that is ‘Too Many People’, wherein he poses pertinent questions (“how many people in this town would help a man if he was down?/ drop a coin in his cup, give him the time of day?”) a lot more of us should think about with the Christmas season just about to kick in.
The jewel in the crown, though, is surely the closing ‘Winterland (Blues)’. With just Barry Southern’s banjo on hand to add flecks of colour, it’s a lo-fi, but enormously moving hymnal folk blues saluting the fallen from World War One right through to ongoing modern skirmishes like Afghanistan and the human collateral such horrific campaigns bequeath. While it’s impossible to deny the impact of lines like “the leafless trees bear witness to the blood-stained fields of snow/ like watercolours blending into the frozen earth below”, it’s the song’s exploration of the poppy as both emblem of remembrance and opiate/ destroyer (“the Winterland where the poppies grow/ just give me opium ‘cos this pain is hurting so”) which is particularly vivid.
Superficially, then, it would be easy to paint Tim Higgins as a modern day protest singer a la punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald, but really such comparisons sell him short. Ultimately it’s the warmth and humanity in his songs that pulls you in and that’s a surprisingly rare quality these days. He may be a relatively late starter in this game, but I – for one – am very glad he’s here now. I’m all ears for the promised debut album due in 2012.