Ok, I know what you are going to say: George found himself another redhead to obsess over. And yes, Miss Case is gorgeous and a redhead. That aside, her latest album Middle Cyclone has completely blown me away.
Let me back up a bit.
About 4 years ago, my ex told me about this musician she loved named Neko Case. She prefaced that statement by saying, “You’ll love her. She’s a redhead.” Now for most people, that would seem like a harmless statement. A matter of fact statement describing the hair color of an individual, plain and simple. I knew better than that.
Whenever the subject of other women ever popped up in a conversation, even something as silly as discussing hair color, was a dangerous mine field of neurotic worries and complaints that inevitably led to a fight. One false move and BANG “I’m not good enough!” and BOOM “You want her!” A smile at a waitress and BANG “You must be sleeping with her!” Polite and chatty with the check out girl and BOOM “Is she your next date??”
And commenting on the beauty of a singer, any singer, no matter how ridiculously out of my league or sphere of influence meant that I simply MUST be actively trying to track them down so I could dump her and sleep with them.
Yup, she was a delightful little ball of Italian craziness. I know it’s weird, but I think her unpredictability was one of the reasons I loved her. It was entertaining to talk her down from her neurotic psycho episode and making up, well, that was always the best part. But living your life on a minefield, always unsure if the next thing you said would trigger a massive fight, that wore thin after awhile.
So when she mentioned that Neko Case was a redhead, I immediately shut down all interest in the conversation. I declined her offer to listen to her cd and even passed on a chance to see her live, all to avoid a massive blow out of a fight that I knew would come if I had shown interest in front of my ex. Secretly, on my own, I went and checked her out on my own online.
I’m not a country fan. Never have been.
Most modern country music annoys the hell out of me with it’s simplicity and jingoistic “America Fuck Yeah” attitude, and the incredibly depressing cry in your beer, sleep with your sister and go watch NASCAR reputation. But there are elements of the country sound that I love, elements that soar above the mundane and create something that can touch us all universally and not just the niche market of modern country music. The term “Alt-Country” has come into popularity in the last decade or so to categorize this sound.
Wilco, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Southern Culture On the Skids, Palace Brothers, Old 97s and even rockabilly and psychobilly bands fall into this category from time to time, although psychobilly definitely leans more towards it’s punk influences than it’s country inspired roots. My love for this know-it-when-I-hear-it genre of music has helped me appreciate artists like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline (early recordings) and even the subtle influences of artists like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and especially the influence of Sun records on the defining sounds of country, blues, rockabilly and, of course, rock and roll.
When I was finally able to check out Neko Case, I fell in love. Her voice, sometimes grating, sometimes demanding, sometimes soaring and angelic, sometimes accusatory but always entertaining, captured my heart. Her lyrics, with their dark overtones, touch the perfect balance between bitterness and light, an ambiguous place that allows her voice to tell you the context, not just the words.
Middle Cyclone starts off with This Tornado Loves You, an appropriate begining. A song about love as a force of nature, strong and undeniable and yet, the subject of her affections is in denial, refusing to believe. And no matter how frenzied or powerful an emotion is, even if it has the power of a tornado, it can be deflated and defeated by a simple act of denial. This sets the tone for the album, a strong set from beginning to end. Songs of unrequited love, loss, frustration and hope, this album has the impression of an artist in a middle ground emotionally, lost and searching for something to hold on to, but the songs reveal that despite all of this, she is a confident and powerful creative force.
Her style on this album definitely still falls into the alt-country genre with some elements of indie pop, folk and even a little motown sound mixed in. I heard it, don’t mock me! 🙂
Her voice is at times heartbreakingly beautiful with an undercurrent of frustration and even hostility. The Next Time You Say Forever contains the memorable lyric “The next time you say forever, I’m going to punch you right in your face.” That one sentence tells a whole story by itself and thats what I love about her. On the title track, she laments “Someones made a fool of me ‘fore I could show them how it’s done.” The title is perhaps directly misleading, expecting a raucous song like Tornado, we get a soothing meditiation on unrequited love.
I could easily go track by track and mention every little aspect that spoke to me: a key lyric, a note, a reverb of a guitar, the sigh in her voice. There are few things to pick apart on this album. I will say that my only true complaint here is that some of the songs are too short, almost feeling incomplete, but it works within the themes and confines of the song. Like all good things, they must come to an end and some of these songs, you just want to go on and on. But I admire that about her writing: she gets the point out, never overstays her welcome and leaves you begging for more.
Yup, I’ve found a new redhead to obsess over, just wish I could have found her sooner….