Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

The fifth album by alt-country singer/songwriter Neko Case is a beautiful set of songs. Case is back with the first studio set in four years of her hallmark sound, her Patsy Cline-inspired alt-country pop.

Although Case gets to perform in a more modern context when appearing in her part-time gig as a member of The New Pornographers, it's sheer timeless pop classicism when she gears up for a solo outing. Her songs usually have a '50s/'60s feel to them, if with modern lyrics.

Case's lyrics often zero in on keenly-observed moments of nighttime loneliness. In "Hold On, Hold On," for example, a bright 12-string guitar masks its dark look at love. "I leave the party at three a.m./Alone, thank God/With a valium from the bride," Case sings, concluding, "It's the devil I love." Or in "Star Witness," Case's narrator observes, "Hey, there there's such tender wolves 'round town tonight."

"The Needle Has Landed" is a lovelorn postcard from the Tacoma and Seattle of Case's youth. Case manages to evoke an old romance's epic backstory with a neat economy of words. Referring to the Seattle's iconic landmark Space Needle, Case sings, "The Needle's the same that recorded and played when you left me at the Greyhound the year I moved away/And if I knew then what's so obvious now, you'd still be here baby."

Case's voice is wonderful throughout, from the choirlike harmonies of the minute-and-a-half long "A Widow's Toast" to her emotional wailing on "Maybe Sparrow." And a talented cast of backing players keeps the music continually inventive and interesting while still retaining a consistency throughout the album.

The album was co-produced Case herself, and features longtime bandmates Jon Rauhouse on banjo and Tom Ray on bass, plus the band which backed her on her 2004 live record The Tigers Have Spoken, The Sadies, also appear on the new record. Atlanta singer/songwriter Kelly Hogan sings some backing vocals, and Calexico's creative team Joey Burns and John Convertino also make appearances. Finally, the ubiquitous Garth Hudson of The Band also shows up to add his distictive organ and piano.

Only four songs on the twelve track disc clock in over four minutes, and the entire album is over in 36 minutes. But as is generally the case with all of Case' releases, never assume quantity equals quality. This is entrancing material without anything even remotely like filler, and a thrilling set that reminds one why a terrific album can be even greater than the sum of good parts.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director