It's been a while since I reviewed a record, and since I just signed up for emusic.com I am flush with new material. The first one I want to write about is "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" by Neko Case who is also in the band The New Pornographers. On her own Case is often described as a country artist or even country noir or alternative country, but the truth lies somewhere in between those labels.
What is undeniable is how amazing Case's voice is, and how well she writes to complement it. On "Fox Confessor" some of the tracks sound as if they could be right off a Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn album and then the pendulum can swing to tracks like "John Saw That Number." This is one of the stand out tracks on the disc in my opinion, but it sounds as if it comes from a southern revival church rather than an indie rock artist. "God told the angel, 'go see about John' ... "Crying holy, holy to the Lord." accompanied by twangy guitar, and tambourine and full backing vocals in harmony with Case, this song is in short breath taking.
The other really transcendent track on this record is "Hold On, Hold On" which begins "The most tender place in my heart is for strangers. I know it's unkind but my own love is much too dangerous." This is not as fast or up tempo as "John" but has a toe tapping pace and very clear and strong vocals from Case and the background. All of the tracks are short with all but a handful wrapping up in less than three minutes, but the effect is not lost due to brevity. In contrast the longest song, "Star Witness" feels much shorter than it's 5:15 running time and is a fantastic track. I also really enjoyed the radio friendly "That Teenage Feeling" which could be at home on country, pop, or indie radio.
I of all people can be guilty of putting labels on so much in pop culture, like movies, music and even sports, but I think Neko Case defies being labeled. All at once she seems like she would be just as at home on the stage of a small, smoky club in LA or NYC with hip indie kids, as she would in a honky tonk populated with boot 'n hat wearing good ole boys and girls. One of the things I love so much about music is that you don't have to do what they tell you.
Much like Jenny Lewis, who I reviewed a few months ago, Neko Case is living the American experience by painting from a pallet that features so many varied hues and textures. That's where the really good stuff comes from, and it takes someone like self professed "everybody's in between girl" to bring it to us. This record, and the whole sub-genre in fact, is some work out of Neko Case and those like her.