Northwestern Patsy Cline with a graduate degree unleashes new album
In the same way Liam Neeson functions in the film world as gravitas-for-hire, the guest list for Neko Case’s new album reads like a receipt from the tumbleweed-skiffle department of a Tucson-area Rent-A-Cred; gracing this project are locals Howe Gelb, and Calexico, plus out-of-towners Kelly Hogan, Dexter Romweber and Garth Hudson, to name a few. Case, of course, still approximates a Northwestern Patsy Cline with a graduate degree, and while the stories she tells are mournful, her delivery remains buoyant. If an old spiritual (“John Saw That Number”) didn’t reveal her hand, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking Case was working to establish a new kind of magical-realist gospel, or Optimism Gothic. Despite the risk-avoidant, “for-grown-ups” tone of the arrangements, wrenching tunes such as “Dirty Knife” and “Lion’s Jaws” easily teleport the listener to a mystical denim prom with a very dusty welcome mat and decorations inspired by an outsider artist’s personal, widow-clogged Narnia.