Prediction: Neko Case’s new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood will no doubt spur reviewers to wax overpoetic about her influences being the likes of David Lynch or Calexico (her sometime backing band, along with the better Sadies) and alt-country this and alt-that and etc etc; they’ll miss the fact Fox Confessor nails that American Gothic Record that Nick Cave has nearly made at times. She’s certainly more suited to the alt-country crown than Wilco, who haven’t been this exciting since their debut (save certain moments on A Ghost is Born).
Like Cave, Case writes impressionistic narratives seemingly handpicked from Flannery O’Connor stories; Case sounds like she’s received an update from Alice Munro. Unlike Cave, Case has been lucky have been born with a killer set of pipes that, with practice and improving songwriting, makes her the best Americana practitioner from America or elsewhere. She can evoke those creepy, late-sixties, early seventies crossover country hits that told a good yarn through reverb, accent, and damn good writing, like the version of “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton (Case prob worships her) and Johnny Cash’s “Hardin Wouldn’t Run” or especially Cash’s version of “Another Man Done Gone,” which Cave and Case ought to consider recording together.
Don’t misunderstand me: Cave’s characteristic voice has allowed him to create spooky atmospheres (“The Mercy Seat” comes to mind, as does “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”) when he writes well, but at day’s end he’s vocally limited, especially when he leans more country than rock.
And please recall, true believers, Case toured with Cave in 2002 or 2003. Why does no one remember? Because she’s surpassed him with this one, I think, although I’m still letting Fox Confessor sink in; overall, Case adds surreptitious instrumental touches like harpsichord to “The Needle Has Landed” my fave thus far, a country track that would wow ’em in 1975; Cave-like menacing cello to “Dirty Knife;” electric piano on “Maybe Sparrow.” Etcetera.
But, and I never thought I’d say this about an album because I sound like some retarded hippie acid-casualty, and because few songwriters pull this off: listen to the words. Even when she’s a little overly sympathetic, like on the nostalgic “Star Witness,” with lines like “Trees break the sidewalk/and the sidewalk skins my knees” Case is still telling a story, lit by lines like “Hey pretty baby get high with me / we can go to my sister’s if we say / we’ll watch the baby.”
And wow that voice. I’d post a Neko picture, but you’ll have to get your mental defilement of a fellow redhead from some other blog. This a family blog, and my bite is much worse than my bark.