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Peter & the open road


It's been over 30 years since one-time busker Peter Case left the sidewalks of San Francisco to pursue slightly more conventional musical ambitions, but the ragged magic of the streets never left him. Lucky us.

Case's storied metamorphosis from untethered teenaged troubadour to Lennon-esque jangle-pop king (with L.A.'s late, great Plimsouls) to folkie-with-an-attitude has yielded memorable music at all stages along the way. But none more potent than Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, a mostly solo acoustic tour de force that plows the fertile earth where Woody Guthrie, Joe Strummer, and the ghosts of bluesmen past merge to muse on a world gone wobbly, wicked, and weird.

This is music driven by an independent, outsider's spirit that should never be confused with detachment. Just because Case draws inspiration and a healthy measure of earthly transcendence from the wide open road doesn't mean he's content to stand idly by while society's sharks and charlatans screw everybody who's clinging for dear life to the bottom rungs of the ladder. Fuck that.

Wrapped around a pulsing core of hobo wanderlust and anti-authoritarian spark, Case's narratives crackle with pointed storytelling from a decidedly left-of-the-aisle perspective. Although not a blunt-instrument political document or manifesto per se, the record is steeped in populist outrage and impatience with the slow crawl toward social justice for even most, never mind all. Witness the tale of a homeless woman's stoic resolve in the shadow of oncoming doom that winds through "Underneath the Stars," or the murderous intrigue that fuels "Million Dollars Bail" with its telling refrain of: "There's two kinds of justice / Everybody knows / One for folks up on the hill / The other's down below." Other standout tracks such as "Ain't Gonna Worry No More" and "The Open Road Song" offer wistful commentary on costly and pointless wars, ominous cultural shifts, economic treachery and more from a deeply personal angle.

Richard Thompson & Peter Case

But like I said, this isn't the Daily Worker set to a backbeat, but rather thinkin' folks' roots music of the highest order. Lifted skyward by Case's gloriously expressive and commanding voice, hotshit acoustic finger-picking and harp work, and guitar-and-vocal cameos by Richard Thompson (on the Celtic-flavored "Every 24 Hours") and Carlos Guitarlos ("Underneath the Stars"), what we have here is an absolutely essential document for troubled times. Let us now praise Peter Case.  • Mike Thomas

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you might be interested in this book

enjoy our 2002 interview with Peter Case

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