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Neko Case

• Neko Case

I've never found this artist to be easily grasped, or her music to be easily digested. Her pipes are kind of overwhelming, first of all. Even she didn't know growing up if she was a good singer, just that she was a loud one, which is still true. And since a lot of what she has sung in her lifetime is or includes Country, she's rightly thought to have the kind of voice that the classic singers in Country history have possessed: powerful, vulnerable, anthemic. But her work with The New Pornographers certainly shows her as much a pop and rock singer as she is a Country singer, and in a recent illuminating article by Tom Moon for Harp magazine, she brought up Freddie Mercury and the band Heart, and one can clearly see the influence of those two acts in her presentation. Along with the big voice, a lot has been made about Neko's good looks and her sometimes sexpot ways, so that can make a female singer a little larger than life as well. (Conversely, we were very taken with how right-sized and down to earth she sounded in that aforementioned article.)

Musically, her near handful of solo CDs began strongly with The Virginian in 1977 and got progressively deeper, and more complicated from there. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood continues in the moody atmosphere established by Furnace Room Lullaby (2000) and more so by the much-heralded Blacklisted (2002), but on the new one the lyrics are more abstruse.

This record was produced by the artist and Darryl Neudorf, who has appeared before in this capacity. It includes a notorious cast of friends: The Sadies, Jon Rauhouse, Howie Gelb, Bryan Connelly, and John Covertino and Joey Burns of Calexico. Sonically, many of the cuts are multi-layered and there is a strong presence of reverb and delay or echo, which adds (in my opinion) to the hard-to-grasp quality of Neko's music. My ears are most comfortable with the comparative thinness of the gospel song "John Saw that Number" (which features Garth Hudson on piano) or the album closer "The Needle Has Landed," as well as the opener, "Margaret vs. Pauline." But the ambience that the players and producers create is a beautiful world, I just find it difficult to get my bearings in it.

Kelly Hogan sings memorably with Neko, it would take a strong singer like that to hit a mix credibly. (I recall now when I once interviewed Neko, she was in a car with Kelly en route to a gig, and Kelly was explaining how her current band in Chicago had a regular gig where they played make-out music, to help people get it on.)

Neko Case has become one of the most admired vocalists of the day, with good reason. If I find her music a little hard to get my ears around, it's not for lack of trying. I must have heard Fox Confessor Brings The Flood a half dozen times today, and liked it better every time. As ever, the music of Neko Case comes highly recommended from us. • FG

Neko & friend listen to clips
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