Missy Higgins

On a Clear Night

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On a Clear Night debuted at the top of the Australian charts in May 2007, knocking Silverchair's Young Modern down to the number two spot and solidifying Missy Higgins' status as an Aussie A-lister. Combining sass with sweet sentiment, the album marks a progression for the young songwriter, who was introduced in 2004 as the Melbourne equivalent of Vanessa Carlton. There's more in Higgins' cannon than piano-heavy ballads, though, and her sophomore disc relies heavily on the acoustic guitar, which lends a saucy swagger to songs like "100 Round the Bends" and "Secret." Higgins' lyrics aren't overtly erotic, but there's more than a hint of sex in the way she sings those two tracks, punctuating her endearingly accented vocals with moments of brazen, full-throated belting. She's part Sarah McLachlan and part Amy Winehouse, a family friendly singer with hipster appeal and, perhaps, a hint of diva potential. And lest this combination seem a bit too calculated, Higgins is still capable of crafting songs like "Sugarcane," a lilting piece of pastoral pop that builds on the template of 2004's Sound of White. "Angela," "I'm Going North," and "Forgive Me" all continue that thread -- but here, Higgins' piano remains de-emphasized in favor of an earthy, folksy instrumental blend. Guitar, banjo, mandolin, and acoustic bass are tastefully swirled together by former Crowded House producer Mitchell Froom, who knows when to adorn the songs with layers of sound and when to sharpen the focus on Higgins' ever-improving voice. Like her fellow countrymen in Silverchair, Missy Higgins' hometown popularity doesn't fully translate overseas, where American audiences have yet to replace those vague Vanessa Carlton comparisons with a proper understanding of her folksy, feisty, and altogether fun music. Nevertheless, On a Clear Night makes a very solid argument for reevaluation, and there's certainly no sophomore slump here.

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