Song of the Day, March 20: I Want to Be Here by case/lang/veirs

clvwanthereToday’s song is a magical celebration. When k.d. lang, Laura Veirs, and Neko Case combined forces as case/lang/veirs, they brough three compatible but distinct approaches to music into a lovely whole. Most of the songs are led by one of the trio, but the moments of full collaboration are even more special.

I Want to Be Here is a sort of quirky lullaby, a charming acoustic number with resonant background sounds. The three singers fuse their voices into a single instrument. It’s an amazing accomplishment, reminiscent of the finer moments of the Roches. Promising to live in the moment rather than be distracted by what might come, they offer a wonderful celebration of hope.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, February 6: Atomic Number by case/lang/veirs

clvatomicToday’s song is a delightful collaboration. Singer k.d. lang was considering retiring from performing, but decided she wanted to “be part of a band, a real collaborative effort.” She emailed Neko Case and Laura Veirs about working together, and both responded quickly and enthusiastically. Their shared alt-country/folk/quirky pop approaches blended nicely — as did their voices. After some time touring together, the trio recorded the album case/lang/veirs.

The opening track sets the stage perfectly. Atomic Number feels a bit like a Neko Case track with its natural imagery, elliptical lyrics, and surging musical energy. The use of each vocalist in sequence on the opening lines, however, makes it clear that this is something special. That pattern repeats, with the trio offering magical harmonies on the chorus. Pondering “why are the wholesome things the ones we make obscene?” over beautiful strings, case/lang/veirs promises a great musical journey, a promise fulfilled over the course of the album.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Album of the Week, May 17: Furnace Room Lullaby by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends

NekoFurnaceCoverNeko Case was born in Alexandria, VA in 1970. Her mother and stepfather moved frequently, and she lived in several states before settling in Tacoma, WA, which she considers her hometown. She left home at 15, drumming in local punk and alt-country bands while finishing school. She moved to Vancouver, BC in 1994 to pursue a fine arts degree and continued drumming and occasionally singing. When she graduated, she moved to Seattle and began a musical career in earnest. Her debut album, 1997’s The Virginian, found her crediting her collaborators as “and Her Boyfriends”. Case presented a strong set of original songs and smart covers, all delivered in a honky-tonk vein that earned her comparisons to Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson. Three years later, she put together a second Boyfriends album, the stunning Furnace Room Lullaby.

Title Furnace Room Lullaby
Act Neko Case and Her Boyfriends
Label Bloodshot Release Date February 22, 2000
Producer Neko Case and Darryl Neudorf
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Set Out Running
  2. Guided By Wire
  3. Porchlight
  4. Mood to Burn Bridges
  5. No Need to Cry
  6. Twist the Knife
  7. Thrice All American
  8. We’ve Never Met
  9. Whip the Blankets
  10. South Tacoma Way
  11. Bought and Sold
  12. Furnace Room Lullaby

The country influences are still there, but honky-tonk is blended into a sort of “country noir” that set the stage for the singer’s future work. With a powerful voice, just a little twang, 12 great songs, and a sympathetic batch of collaborators, Neko Case made her first powerful statement.

Set Out Running is an appropriate title for the album’s launching point. A classic bad romance song, it showcases all of Case’s skills and sets a tone of independence and vulnerability that resonate throughout the disc. Guided By Wire is a stirring ode to the power of music featuring a nice vocal by John Ramberg. On Porchlight, singer Kelly Hogan provides a haunting vocal that works seamlessly with Case’s. It’s a track of yearning and loss, with the light burning far away offering faint hope in the distance.

On Mood to Burn Bridges Case brings back the honky-tonk, giving a gritty performance that makes it clear she will take no prisoners. It’s a great, high energy song and one of the disc’s standouts. Things get quieter on No Need to Cry, a sweet country ballad with hushed instrumentation. It sounds like a 50s Country classic and shows off Case’s power at any volume. Twist the Knife is a torchy regret song that caps off this alt-country triad with class.

Case pays tribute to her oft-maligned hometown on Thrice All American. She’s not blind to Tacoma’s faults, but she knows that home is a powerful thing and respects everything the city gave her. We Never Met is another country-tinged weeper, saved from being maudlin by the glorious vocals and nice fiddle figure. Case gets energetic again on Whip the Blankets, a raunchy raver that shows off another side of the talented musician. It’s one of the highlights of the album.

South Tacoma Way invokes the city again, this time as a setting rather than tribute. It’s a quiet, affecting song that shows of the great sequencing on this album. Bought and Sold is the last of the classic country songs on the disc, a great song of loss and regret that makes particularly fine use of Case’s range. The album ends with the creepy title song, a dark, elliptical story of something gone wrong. It’s a masterpiece of country noir and one of the finest vocal performances Case has ever turned in. Confined to the furnace room perhaps, but evoking wide open spaces and an aching need, it’s a brilliant song that encapsulates everything wonderful about this great album.

FURTHER LISTENING: Since she abandoned the Boyfriends identity, Case has become an alt-roots superstar. She’s worked regularly with the New Pornographers and the Sadies while building a sterling solo career. Her amazing voice is at the center of all her work, but her musical smarts and great collaborators are also part of the fun of every outing.

All of the albums that bear her name are worthwhile. The Virginian is the most country of the set, making it the most constricted but also a fun look at where she comes from. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is the best, most consistent disc, with Middle Cyclone coming in a close second, suffering only from a bit of sameness. The brief live disc The Tigers Have Spoken is a smart set without a dud that features an array of guests that includes most of Her Boyfriends.

Song of the Day, April 29: Poor Wayfaring Stranger by Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson

WCGiftStrangerToday’s song is The Wayfaring Stranger. It’s a gospel-tinged American folk song [Roud 3339] dating to the early 19th Century. The narrator is a troubled soul, doing her best to get by in a world of troubles and looking forward to peace in the end. The song has been recorded many times by a wide array of artists and was recognized by the Western Writers of America as one of the Top 100 Western Songs in 2010.

I enjoy a wide variety of interpretations of this song.

  • Burl Ives recorded a version in 1944 and it became one of his signature songs.
  • Legendary folk singer and song historian Almeda “Granny” Riddle also included the song in her collections over the years.
  • Emmylou Harris recorded a version on her 1980 album Roses In the Snow and released it as a successful single [#7 Country].
  • Neko Case included a stirring version on her 2004 album The Tigers Have Spoken.

On the other side of the pond, Martin Carthy sang the song on Sydney Carter’s television program Hallelujah in 1966; that version was included in the album released to celebrate the show’s musical themes. Over 40 years later, Carthy’s wife and daughter turned in my favorite take on the song.

Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson released their first album as a recording duo in 2010. The lead-off track was a beautiful take on the song (using its alternate title) that Liza describes this way:

…this one comes from Mam and Aidan [Curran] sitting having a tune one night. Aidan led the arrangement, right down to trying to tell Danny Thompson what to play without being too scared.

Family member Marry Waterson provides haunting harmonies that round out the song. Enjoy this lovely rendition of a classic folk tune today.

Song of the Day, April 30: Mood to Burn Bridges by Neko Case and Her Boyfriends

CaseMoodToday’s song is Mood to Burn Bridges by Neko Case. It appears on her second album, Furnace Room Lullaby, the last to include credit to “Her Boyfriends” on the label. It’s a scathing indictment of snoops, gossips, and busybodies, warning them that Case is perfectly happy leave them all behind.

So if you want moral advice
I suggest you just tuck it all away
‘Cause my mood to burn bridges
Parallels my mood to dig ditches
Don’t cross me on either day

She rips through the vocal in high style as the band rush to keep up with her. The intensity is just right wrapping up in short order and making the point crystal clear.

Enjoy this brilliant kiss-off statement today.

Song of the Day, February 8: Knock Loud by Neko Case

nekoKnockToday’s song is Knock Loud performed by Neko Case. Between her second and third albums, Case recorded Canadian Amp, an eight-song EP to sell at shows. The recording was done in her kitchen with a handful of friends, creating a bare, beautiful sound that showcases her amazing vocals.

Four of the eight tracks were written by Canadian artists, allowing Case to pay tribute to the country where she launched her career. Knock Loud was written by Sook-Yin Lee, the often controversial singer, actor, and broadcaster from Vancouver. It’s a powerful song that balances isolation and welcome, delivered perfectly by case with a chiming guitar as accompaniment.

Knock loud I’m home
I wrote in black felt pen
Took that sign and taped it to the door

If you come in
To see how I have been
Make sure the door is closed behind you

Enjoy this wonderful performance today.

Song of the Day, December 18: Hold On, Hold On by Neko Case

CaseFCBtFHoldOnToday’s song is Hold On, Hold On by Neko Case, taken from her powerful 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. She co-wrote the track with frequent collaborators the Sadies, who also provide musical backing. As with most of Case’s work, it’s a story told in hints and flashes, with the listener left to complete the details from the images given.

It tells of the tension between love as revealed in music and as it must actually be lived, narrated around a wedding reception which serves as the anchor for the latter.

I leave the party at three a.m.
Alone, thank God
With a Valium from the bride
It’s the devil I love
And that’s as funny as real love
And that’s as real as true love
That echo chorus lied to me with its
“Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on”

Neko Case is in fine voice (as always), delivering the perfect song in just under three minutes. The song was covered by alt-rock godmother Marianne Faithfull on her 2008 album Easy Come Easy Go. She turns in a ravaged, darker version that stands up next to the original extremely well, and her band — including guitar from Sean Lennon — delivers a perfectly harrowing performance to wrap up the song.

After that celebration of songwriting excellence, enjoy Neko Case’s powerful original.

Song of the Day, September 8: Things That Scare Me by Neko Case

Today’s song is Things That Scare Me by Neko Case. It appears on her third album, Blacklisted, the first credited to the singer alone. She still has an impressive array of musical partners, crafting a dark, brooding album buoyed by her amazing voice. This leadoff track is a perfect Case vignette. Haunting and evocative, it tells a story with all the details removed. We don’t quite know what scares Neko Case, but we share her sense of dread.

Fluorescent lights engage
Blackbirds frying on a wire
Same birds that followed me to school When I was young
Were they trying to tell me something
Were they telling me to run

Today is Neko’s 42nd birthday. Wish her many happy returns and enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, July 2: Furnace Room Lullaby by Neko Case

Today’s song is Furnace Room Lullaby by Neko Case. The title track of her second album, it was credited to Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, a revolving assortment of stellar musicians who record and perform with her. This song confirms Case’s voice as a force of nature. Dramatic without being melodramatic and powerful with a purpose, her delivery is spot on. What is Furnace Room Lullaby about? Who can say. Part Tell-Tale Heart, part gothic short story, part aching love gone wrong, it’s an experience as much as a story. (The creepy video is delightfully perfect as well.)

All night, all I hear, all I hear’s your heart
How come, how come

Longtime Case collaborator (and vocalist to be reckoned with herself) Kelly Hogan is credited with “spooky oohs” which round out the atmosphere perfectly. Enjoy this amazing song today.

Song of the Day, May 16: Margaret Vs. Pauline by Neko Case

Today’s song is Margaret vs. Pauline by Neko Case. A beautiful character study, the song juxtaposes two very different women. Pauline is gracious and privileged.

Everything’s so easy for Pauline
Ancient strings set feet alight to speed to her such mild grace

Margaret, on the other hand, has a harder life.

Girl with the parking lot eyes
Margaret is the fragments of a name

“Parking lot eyes” is one of my very favorite images (and song references) of all time.

When the two are brought together, the differences between their hardships underscore the message of the song.

Two girls ride the blue line
Two girls walk down the same street
One left her sweater sittin’ on the train
The other lost three fingers at the cannery

Enjoy this potent set of images in song today.

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