When Drag City reissued Gary Higgins' 1973 album Red Hash, it was deemed, rightfully, an underground classic. It stands apart from other privately pressed recordings of the era because of its overall quality, from its songwriting to performing to production. DC wanted more material from the Red Hash period to issue as a follow-up. Higgins admitted that more songs from the period existed and was willing to release them, with a caveat: he wanted to record an album of recent material to reveal that he was still active. The result was 2009's Seconds, an excellent set of songs that included some of the same musicians who performed on Red Hash. In the second decade of the 21st century, Higgins and DC give us A Dream a While Back; it contains six songs written and recorded between 1970 and 1971. So fine is their quality, they could easily have been included on Red Hash; they're consistent, haunting, and constant in their elliptical simplicity and poignancy. "Stormy Weather," played on intertwining 12- and six-string acoustic guitars in a minor key, opens the set. Higgins sings gently and directly: "the secret ain't in no shell/Nor deep in a wishin' well/The whole earth begins to swell and sink below...." The theme is timeless, his voice is, too. The ghostliness in this music is full of psychic innuendo and an existential searching for answers that the singer knows in advance don't exist. The skeletal solo acoustic fingerpicking of "Laugh a Little" underscores the struggle, and yet reaches for the humor in it. "A Song to Springtime" sounds like a demo with Higgins' self-overdubbed vocal line, its beautifully droning, restrained melody is hypnotic. "Waiting for You" is more involved with the use of a gorgeous bridge, but its lyric, in its endless questing and self-examination, looks in and reaches outside into the world at large. "Oxygen" references political, social, and spiritual concerns from the turn of the '60s. That said, its relevance for the present day is undiminished as not only memory, but instruction. The set closes with "Checkpoint," perhaps the most profound and piercing song of spiritual hide-and-seek Higgins has offered thus far. Its fingerpicked guitar lines act as a countermelody to the lyric and send it forward into the world as a well-intentioned dare. A Dream a While Back is an essential additional document in Higgins' legacy and adds to, not diminishes, Red Hash's legacy.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek