It’s a brave thing to do, recording a debut album and putting it out in front of the world. It’s perhaps even more so when your album contains 10 songs of unaccompanied singing, embellished with only the occasional overdub of your own harmonies. The bravery award, therefore, goes to Jennie Higgins, who ticks all of the above boxes with the newly-released, Where Are All the Women?
Jennie Higgins’ press release suggests that she has been singing at folk clubs and festivals across the West Country, “since she was five years old”. Born into the folk scene, then, and it has clearly done wonders for her confidence – she has recently headlined an evening at the prestigious Green Note, Camden, and plans to do plenty more.
Albums of unaccompanied singing are an acquired taste, of course, and the greats (I’m thinking here of the likes of Mike Waterson) often tended to approach these later on in their career, once they had built up the requisite experience to hold an audience’s attention over a sustained period. Occasionally you’d get an Anne Briggs who appeared as if fully-formed, but her first full album arrived eight years after her debut EP – unaccompanied, yes, but limited to only four songs.
Is Jennie Higgins there yet? No, and neither should anyone expect her to be. She has an attractive voice, though – one that you can imagine getting stronger as her experience builds, and one that you can imagine fronting a young folk ensemble. Hers is a raw talent at present; with time, she will improve on her arranging skills and become a more confident studio singer. It will also be interesting to see how she begins exploring the depths of the archive to a greater extent, seeking out lesser-known songs that perhaps answer the question in the album’s title more definitively, and that she can truly make her own.
For these reasons, Where Are All the Women? works as a snapshot of an emerging singer engaging with a repertoire of songs she clearly feels a lot for. There’s an occasional fire in ‘My Husband’s Got no Courage in Him’ [Roud 870], elements of comedy in ‘Hedger and Ditcher’ [Roud 846], and evidence of a promising, skilled voice on ‘My Johnny’ [Roud 1388]. One hopes that she will collaborate with some of the other young and exciting folk musicians emerging on the English folk scene, who may help to highlight her abilities. One to watch.
Where Are All the Women? by Jennie Higgins is released on February 2nd and can be ordered from Bandcamp.