On a Clear NightOpening uncertainly with the line, “I don’t know what I’ve done / or if I like who I’ve become,” Missy Higgins’ highly anticipated (at least in Australia) second record isn’t likely to leave audiences in the same quandary. The sometimes sweet/sometimes dark On A Clear Night expands Higgins’ singer-songwriter prowess with 11 catchy, but emotional tracks.

Her first album, The Sound of White, was Australia’s best-selling album of 2005, and istening to the album, it’s no shock that Higgins managed to touch something in such a wide audience. Her raw but delicate vocals have a captivating effect, while her lyrics paint a striking picture of strong vulnerability. It’s a good one-two effect, and she pulls it off perfectly on nearly every track here. With an intriguing accent and a strumming guitar, Higgins presents herself as alternately broken and overpowering, and sometimes both at once.

In the angry “Peachy,” she bitterly declares “Now I’m split in two / I’m half me and half you / but I hate us both / don’t you?” while in the unguarded “Sugarcane” she laments how a young ballerina says to “Always be afraid.” But Higgins is at her best when she combines her strength and openness, as in the opening track “Where I Stood” when she admits that “I don’t know who I am without you / All I know is that I should.” It’s this mix of emotional candor and decisiveness that sets Higgins apart from the typical female songstress.

The varying styles of her songs is another draw here. Though there is a recognizability throughout the album it’s easy to make a distinction between the upbeat, guitar-driven pieces and the more dramatic ballads showcasing her skills as a pianist. And while most of the songs center around relationships in some sense, other tracks like the motivational “Going North” are more philosphical than sentimental: “I wanna know where children would go / if they never learned to be cool.”

The album’s not perfect, though. Some lyrics don’t quite hit their mark, as in the slightly offputting “Warm Whispers” when listeners discover that Higgins is “weeping warm honey and milk.” And the live-sounding recording of “Forgive Me” at the end of the album is moving, but after a well-produced 10 tracks, it’s a little less impressive than it should be. Overall, Higgins created anticipation after her first album, and delivers solidly here.

Zach’s Rating: A-
Perfect For: Any fan of the female singer-songwriter style
Stay Away if: You were done with female singer-songwriters even before Jewel sold out
Buy this on Itunes: “Sugarcane” and “Where I Stood”

To purchase On A Clear Night, visit Amazon
For more information on Missy Higgins, visit her homepage

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