Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
The Music Box's #2 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2006, Volume 13, #5
Written by John Metzger
Neko Case has a big voice, and from her debut The Virginian through 2002’s Blacklisted, it has towered over her material; garnered her a slew of comparisons to country legend Patsy Cline; and earned her a sizeable, cult-like following. In a sense, it was all that mattered, and it effectively drew attention away from the fact that her abilities as a songwriter and lyricist lagged behind her talent as a vocalist. After all, The Virginian blended original compositions with a plethora of country covers, and she had assistance in crafting all but one of the tunes on the subsequent Furnace Room Lullaby. Still, there were hints that she had greater aspirations — not the least of which was a gradual assumption of control that, commensurate with her development, began to come to fruition within the haunted sparseness of Blacklisted. Though her albums have been too scattered and unfocused to be considered anything close to perfect, there always were at least a few, pure gems lurking inside: Furnace Room Lullaby’s South Tacoma Way and Blacklisted’s Things that Scare Me, among them. Too often, however, her finer compositions were lost within a stream of similar sounding fare. Simply put, Case was good, but she wasn’t, yet, great.
All of this has changed dramatically with the release of her ambitious, new outing Fox Confessor Brings the Flood because Neko Case finally has made an album that warrants all of the hype that she has received. Exuding a level of confidence that previously had been missing from her work, she not only has taken a giant leap forward, but she also has sculpted a near perfect, 12-song endeavor that finds her successfully shrugging off the alt-country tag that had been pinned to her since The Virginian. Building upon the David Lynch-ian ambience of Blacklisted, Case folded elements of soul, country, folk, gospel, and pop as well as touches of surf rock and California-bred psychedelia into the 36-minute affair. The Needle Has Landed, for example, hints at R.E.M.; That Teenage Feeling evokes The Shangri Las; and taken in full, the collection expands upon the ghostly world of Jesse Sykes’ Oh, My Girl.
Augmenting Blacklisted’s supporting cast of The Sadies, Jon Rauhouse, Brian Connelly, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, and Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, with Kelly Hogan, Visqueen’s Rachel Fotard, and The Band’s Garth Hudson, Case concocts for Fox Confessor Brings the Flood boldly textured music that matches, step-for-step, the power inherent in her vocals. Therefore, when she does forsake the layered atmospherics in order to revel in the quiet beauty of a song like The Widow’s Toast, the result becomes all the more sad, somber, and chilling. Consequently, she no longer appears to be trying to imitate Patsy Cline. Instead, she now sounds entirely like Neko Case.
Nevertheless, it is as a lyricist that Case has made her greatest strides. Playing the role of the omnipotent narrator, she keenly provides enough detail on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood to establish a mood, and by enveloping the words that she sings within cinematically colored arrangements, she suitably enhances their effectiveness. Themes of death and fate pervade the endeavor, as do her frequent references to animals — the title track, for example, is based upon a Ukranian folk tale. These commonalities combined with her intentionally vague storylines allow for each song to lend meaning to the next, while also leaving plenty of room for a myriad of interpretations. Like fragmented snapshots, her tales unwind with poetic deliberation — at times, drawing to mind the work of Paul Simon. The jumbled chronology of Star Witness, the rich-girl/poor-girl dichotomy of Margaret vs. Pauline, and the disturbing descent into madness that is chronicled on The Dirty Knife are but a few of the highlights from Case’s gothic American masterpiece. In essence, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is not only the pinnacle of Case’s young career, but it also just may be the album to beat in 2006. At the very least, it’s the outing that ought to put her on a much bigger map. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box