Missy Higgins – Oz
It shows she is proud of her status as a uniquely Australian performer and she is equally proud of her Australian songwriting peers. It also shows that Missy Higgins has impeccable taste and that her unique voice is perhaps a little more versatile than cynics give her credit for.
Oz is a collection of covers – and solely covers – of Australian artists. It's not strictly typical Aussie classics, though. It features a raft of brilliant songs that have gone under the radar.
The best example of this is her version of Perry Keyes' 'NYE'. Keyes remains one of Australia's best kept secrets, a prodigiously talented Sydneysider who writes relatable, sometimes slightly sordid tales of Australian life. "All the junkie kids are tired, every single taxi's hired," Higgins sings. It's not the kind of lyrical fare we're used to hearing from her, but it's a refreshing change.
The Drones' 'Shark Fin Blues' is considered a modern Australian classic and while the devotees may shirk at a starlet like Higgins taking on the dense, incendiary rocker, she nails her rendition.
Of the more popular fare Higgins tackles, Icehouse's exaggeratedly emotional 'Don't Believe Anymore' is the highlight. It's a dark song already, but Higgins' stripped-back version gives it an extra sense of attitude, which is memorable. Slim Dusty's 'The Biggest Disappointment' is given the lo-fi treatment and Dan Sultan's guest appearance on the song works perfectly. The Angels' 'No Secrets' lacks the aggression of the original but perhaps sounds even creepier.
Higgins and co-producer Jherek Bischoff leave the songs alone for the most part, resisting the urge to go overboard on supplementary instrumentation. It works when they do add colourful sonic elements to the mix, though. The soprano vocal in the background of The Blackeyed Susans' 'Curse On You' is a brilliant touch, the simple organ slide on The Warumpi Band's 'Blackfella/Whitefella' adds a great deal, and the restrained, sustained horns on Don Walker's 'The Way You Are Tonight' are so fitting.
While Oz is full of classic songs, it is still a Missy Higgins record. Those who may have issues with the sound of her records or her unique voice will have the same struggle here as they always have. Conversely, Higgins' devotees will find plenty to love about the sound of this album, even if they aren't her songs.
But Oz is a worthy and successful experiment from an artist who didn't need to experiment to retain her fans and, if nothing else, it will introduce some of Australia's best songwriting to a wider audience.