First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2009, Volume 16, #12
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 9, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
Anyone who has closely followed the career of Neko Case undoubtedly has found immense pleasure in watching her development not only as a singer but also as a songwriter and overall performer. Case has always had a powerful voice, and right from the start, it allowed her to establish a commanding presence from the concert stage. In the recording studio, however, it frequently overpowered and consumed the arrangements that surrounded her. For the better part of the past 12 years, Case has been learning how to work with her gift rather than against it. Her vocals remain larger-than-life. Yet, there now are subtleties and nuances lurking in her inflections, and her poetic lyrics combined with the cinematic orchestrations of her music at long last are able to withstand the forcefulness of her delivery.
With her 2006 endeavor Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Case truly came into her own. Her latest effort Middle Cyclone follows the same blueprint, though it also seems to turn the formula in a more personal direction. Throughout the set, Case continues her infatuation with anthropomorphizing animals, though she also ascribes similar attributes to weather phenomena and Mother Earth. Blood and bodies are strewn here and there, and she reveals both open wounds and battle scars. The road upon which she rides is as open and free as it is long and lonely, and the devastation that she conjures with her words revolves around the idea that love can either cling too tightly or remain out of reach.
Accompanied on Middle Cyclone by a wide-ranging cast of longtime accomplices — Garth Hudson, Jon Rauhouse, Kelly Hogan, M. Ward, Howe Gelb, Sarah Harmer, and The Sadies, among them — Case constructs music that dips, dodges, and swirls as it moves across her darkened terrain. There are homages to George Martin’s work with The Beatles (The Next Time You Say Forever) as well as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound (Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth). Likewise, the arrangements shift from the infectious jingle-jangle of People Got a Lotta Nerve to the eerie aura of Polar Nettles and from the claustrophobic desperation of Prison Girls to the grand pleading of This Tornado Loves You.
When she sings, Case still sounds a lot like Patsy Cline, even as her songs have veered from country to pop. Still, her emphasis upon melodic structure has grown sharper, and her vocal inflections increasingly act like prisms that illuminate the full emotional spectrum of her lyrics. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to discern precisely what Case means. Because she clouds her stories by hiding the literal details, the beginnings and endings of her characters’ journeys are open to interpretation. She reveals only what is necessary to create images, scenes, and moods that are caught at a precise moment in time. Yet, her voice repeatedly provides clarity in its twinges of sorrow, regret, aching, and yearning.
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is the album that brought Case to this point. With Middle Cyclone, she puts the arsenal that she has built to good use by refining her vision and bringing it ever closer to perfection. ˝
Of Further Interest...
Middle Cyclone is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box