The Tigers Have Spoken
I love a genre hopper. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the organic reality of genres – patterns form and gel. It’s a natural thing, the animals will gather at the watering hole with the water that tastes best to them. But I have a deep-seeded fear of Marketing, and how we as a water–lapping herd of talking monkeys are in the process of being fenced in for more efficient poaching, where even our protest against being a demographic is a demographic in itself. Our customer service culture is often nothing more than a tracking mechanism for those that want to use what useless thing they just sold us as a method for figuring out what next useless thing they can sell us. And even worse, it makes me even aware that they I am a hypocrite, noting that the axe I’m grinding has a brand name on it.
But that’s OK, put me in the Venn diagram with the Genre Hoppers like Neko Case, the de facto Alt-country dream girl with her smoky solo albums, and the voice of the new pop revolution as a member of the New Pornographers. Here’s hoping she decides to make both a dancefloor techno hit and a Swedish Death Metal rock opera as well. Neko made her name being the rare babe in a genre populated primarily by homely dudes. But instead of being just dirty-church-girl ad copy like most of the other women that make up the sidebars of No Depression and Paste, she delivers with great fresh songs and flawless execution. Not that I’m against dirty-church-girls at all, its just that the alternative to Nashville that alt-country once portended to be is looking and sounding rather cookie cutter.
This album, recorded live in Toronto and various other places, has some of the catalog placeholder characteristics that live albums often portray, but is still a worthy document even if you haven’t subscribed to her listserv. The rendition of previous delights like “Blacklisted” and “Favorite” are demonstrated with the big warmth she brings to her live shows. New songs like the title track and the opener “If You Knew” show Ms. Case maturing as an artist, shedding off some of the country window treatments to make some fine original music. What is particularly rewarding here is that she is not following the same unfortunate path that fellow songbirds Allison Kraus has done on recent works, dropping the Hee Haw act in favor of the NPR pledge drive patina of whitebread understanding of indigenous music without actually going there. These are just great songs, not trying to be anything else but that.
There are spates of reverent cover tunes that highlight her various facets. The Grande Ole Opry take of Buffy Sainte-Maries’s “Soulful Shade of Blue” is delightful Austin City Limits-ready pop. She gets her Leslie Gore on with her cover of The Shangri-La’s (a band whose name I deem to be brilliant now that I have typed it for the first time ever) “The Train from Kansas City” and her groovy rendition Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X” underscores the lessons Miss Loretta taught us ages ago – that you can swing and twang at the same time. The old country stomp of “This Little Light” seems a bit forced to me, but it still works, and is saved by the delightfully pokey plunky “Wayfaring Stranger” where a choir of angels pops up out of nowhere to back up her honey sweet voice.
This may not be the must-have Case album (for me its Furnace Room Lullaby or the Canadian Amp EP) but this is an excellent introduction to one of the most interesting forces in the changing face of independent music, and if this is any indication of what to expect from her forthcoming studio album, she will once again manage to serve up another warm slice or the unexpected.