Live Review | The Wheelhouse, Wombwell | Review by Allan Wilkinson
There was a lot in the way of ‘littles’ tonight. From the little town of Nokomis in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, Little Miss ‘Jolene’ Higgins made her debut at the little Wheelhouse, bringing a taste of vaudeville style entertainment to the popular venue, filling the room with her strong and distinctive jazz-flavoured voice, mixing her own material with classic Memphis Minnie blues songs. There’s nothing little about that voice though, which dominated the house concert, whilst partner Foy Taylor provided the rhythm guitar and backing vocals throughout. With vintage guitars in hand and at the ready, Jolene and Foy performed songs from the Little Miss Higgins catalogue, including a selection from her last record Junction City (2007) including “That Train’s a Comin’ Down”, “Velvet Barley Bed”, “In the Middle of Nowhere” and the wonderfully confrontational “Liar Liar”. Much of the set though centred around Little Miss Higgins’ current album Across the Plains, with arguably some of her best songs to date such as “The Tornado Song”, the unaccompanied “Gather My Fruit”, “Snowin’ Today: Lament for Louis Riel” and the surprise ‘hit’ and live favourite “Bargain! Shop Panties”. There was also a couple of well-chosen Memphis Minnie songs included, both of which clearly showed Jolene’s roots; “You Ain’t Done Nothing To Me” and “Killer Diller”. With some entertaining between-song banter with the audience, which centred around Jolene’s Alberta background, her travel exploits and beer, together with an evenly balanced mixture of country-flavoured ballads, juke joint blues numbers, rockabilly stompers and jazz-tinged crooners, Jolene presented a couple of sets that makes her act difficult to categorise. During the old Bessie Smith blues classic “Me and My Gin”, Jolene requested a shot glass from the bar for some spontaneous bottleneck slide playing. Not to waste the opportunity, Jolene also requested that the glass be filled with gin. Andy the barman dutifully handed over a couple of gins, one of which our host Hedley Jones had to ‘feed’ to Foy Taylor, whilst he continued playing his guitar, not missing a beat. The other one was down Jolene’s neck in one, then explored the neck of her guitar for the remainder of the song. Finishing with “Romance in the Dark”, a much older song which appeared on Jolene’s debut album Cobbler Shop Sessions (2005), Little Miss Higgins left both the stage and a lasting impression on the Wombwell audience. Continuing the theme of all things little, the support came in the form of 14 year-old Mia Symonds, a tiny frame with a massive talent, who performed a handful of songs, including KT Tunstall’s “The Other Side of the World”, Beyonce’s “Smash Into You” and the Jason Mraz hit “I’m Yours”, together with the achingly personal self-penned song “Closer”, extraordinarily mature lyrics for one so young. I’m certain we’ll hear a lot more from Mia in due course.