- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Missy Higgins‘ current tour is a cozy, intimate affair. Along with the various members of her band, the Australian songwriter shares her bus with Eric Hutchinson, the tour’s opening act.

“It’s always interesting when you share space in closely confined headquarters,” she says. “It’s like boarding school.”

While attending Australia’s prestigious Geelong Grammar School, which goes through grade 12, several years ago, Miss Higgins studied jazz and focused on her schoolwork. She was already an experienced musician, having sung with her brother’s band, and composed several songs on her own. Yet education took precedence until her sister stepped in. “When I was in grade 10,” Miss Higgins remembers, “I wrote a song called ‘All for Believing.’

“A couple of years later, my sister sent it into this national competition while I was still away.”

AUDIO: “Where I Stood,” Missy Higgins

Miss Higgins soon received a phone call informing her that she had won, even though she had never heard of the contest.

“I had no idea how big of a deal it was,” she admits, “but they told me that I’d be getting a lot of exposure. It turned out they were right.”

Given her heightened profile, Missy Higgins’ music suddenly was in demand. She fielded offers from several labels, signed a record contract and set to work on her full-length debut. “The Sound of White” arrived in September 2004, flaunting a mix of pretty piano ballads and strong vocals that proved to be staggeringly popular. The album enjoyed a two-year reign on the Australian charts and won a number of ARIA Awards, the Aussie equivalent of the Grammys.

“On a Clear Night” followed in 2007. Like its predecessor, the album topped the nation’s music charts and furthered Miss Higgins’ profile overseas.

Nowadays, Australia’s most promising export lives in Los Angeles. She prefers bicycles to automobiles and doesn’t fly home often, citing the environmental impact of multiple trips to Melbourne. Besides, there’s more than enough to keep Miss Higgins in America, where she’ll be touring throughout the summer. Come September, she’ll play several concerts alongside the Indigo Girls, whose harmonies and acoustic-based songcraft have played an important role in her own music.

“It’s going to be fun playing with them again,” she says, having contributed backup vocals to a previous Indigo Girls album.

Still, Miss Higgins sounds most excited when performing her own music - from the saucy swagger of “100 Round the Bends” to poignant ballads including “Sugarcane” and “Where I Stood.”

“I’m loving this tour more than any other tour,” she enthuses during a pit stop in Troy, N.Y. “I’ve been playing with my band for so long now, I have complete faith in everything they’re going to play. I can just lose myself in the song, which is such a nice feeling.”

Missy Higgins and Eric Hutchinson play the Birchmere on Sunday. Tickets are $22.50, and doors open at 7:30.

Hoge’s Song of the South

Will Hoge is a road warrior. For the past decade, the Tennessee native has forsaken the comforts of home for an infinite string of bars, clubs and music halls that pepper America’s landscape.

Night by night, show by show, he expands his audience with an energetic dedication to Southern-style rock ‘n’ roll. The job isn’t for everybody, but Mr. Hoge sounds quite content.

“We do 200 shows a year,” he says proudly before doling out advice for a successful touring experience.

“Rule No. 1 is to tour with a good band and crew. There are plenty of highs and lows, so having good personalities is critical. Being away is hard sometimes. I love it, and I have no desire to do anything else, but you’re away from family and friends a lot. The guys on the bus are your support network.”

Mr. Hoge also receives support from Rykodisc, a New York-based record label that signed the artist in 2007. Before that, he spent a handful of years as an independent musician, financing his own tours and recording sessions without outside help. “Draw the Curtains,” his most recent album, was recorded at his own expense before Rykodisc showed interested and ultimately brought him aboard its roster.

“Curtains” draws influence from Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Tom Petty, all of whom are among Mr. Hoge’s favorite artists. The album’s soulful sound is inspired by the singer’s love for the South, but Mr. Hoge’s lyrics target a decidedly wider audience. With an earnest voice that rivals that of most of his rock ‘n’ roll contemporaries, he sings about universal issues, from heartbreak and loss to good ol’-fashioned love.

“I draw on life experiences and those writers that have influenced me along the way,” he says. “I try to tell a story, using what I’ve lived, seen or heard to give it life. I’m not terribly good with fiction.”

Maybe not, but Mr. Hoge is good with all the things that fuel a solid record.

“Draw the Curtains” croons and struts throughout its 11 tracks, with “Dirty Little War” and “When I Can Afford to Lose” standing out as the album’s passionate highlights.

“Sometimes, you just catch a moment,” he says, struggling to identify the magic of those two songs. “Luckily, I felt we got a few of those on this album.”

Will Hoge stops by Jammin’ Java on Thursday for an 8 p.m. performance. The Spring Standards are also on the bill. Tickets are $12 in advance.

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