A couple years after Drag City reissued Gary Higgins's 1973 album Red Hash, the recording stands tall as one of the prime excavations of the ongoing psych-folk gold rush. As with Vashti Bunyan, Higgins's resurgence comes with a mythic narrative: where Bunyan left behind Just Another Diamond Day for a bucolic family life in England's north country, Higgins floated upriver in a different way after Red Hash, serving time for a marijuana bust in rural Connecticut. The disc was recorded while he was out on bail, in the few days between his arrest and sentencing. If Red Hash's spectral, overcast tone is any indication, Higgins spent the time in a reflective, worried mind: the full-length's opening lines - "What do you intend to do young man? / Where do you intend to go? / Will you take a trip to the deep dark South / down into Mexico?" - sound like those of a poet rather than of an outlaw.
Higgins only served 13 months of his 5- to 10-year sentence, but the seeds of Red Hash's legend had been sown. The album finally got its due thanks to Drag City's Zach Cowie, who, after being indoctrinated by Six Organs of Admittance's Ben Chasny, spent a couple of years tracking Higgins down. He found the redheaded stranger back in his Connecticut home, with master tapes ready for the remastering. To hear Red Hash now is to know you're coming across one of those great, lost records. There is, of course, a strong patchouli vibe throughout, but it's the sad-eyed, searching beauty of Higgins's voice and melodies that consecrate the album as an American beauty. The songs are fractured, but gently so: "My brothers and I were born of the sky," Higgins wistfully sings on "Unable to Fly." "The curse lay on me unable to fly / But in the first few months of our lives / Carefree in the sun we all would lie." (Max Goldberg)
With PG Six and Sean Smith
May 12, 7:30 p.m., $17
Swedish American Hall
2170 Market, SF