April 11, 2005

Neko Case "The Tigers Have Spoken"

One of the things I like about country music is the insistence that any country singer must have the ability to perform live. That's one of the reasons there's never been a country-western Smile or OK Computer. It' s not that country artists can't make that kind of innovative music--it's just that they have a different set of priorities. It's the difference between being an "artist" and an "entertainer." Some would argue that many musicians have lost the entertainer aspect of music-making. Country music won't stand for that kind of crap, and it doesn't matter if you'
re talking about Garth Brooks or Hank Williams--if you can't play live, then, well, that means you're not very good.

Alt-country crooner Neko Case's first live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, proves that she's more than just a studio songbird. She's backed by The Sadies, as well as friends Jon Rauhouse, Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan, and their accompaniment sounds nothing short of grand. She is in fine voice, belting out song after song with a tenderness that makes you appreciate the beauty in her voice and a toughness that gives these songs a strength and forcefulness that's not found in a studio setting. The setlist for The Tigers Have Spoken isn't a full concert per se, but it is brief and concise, allowing for a more focused spotlight on her talent, and her song choice is interesting and entertaining.

Case offers up great deliveries of several songs out of her enjoyable discography, including "Blacklisted" and a rather rare early song of hers, "Favorite," but it's the covers that really make this an enjoyable experience. Sure, you might not be surprised about her cover of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X," Catherine Ann Irwin's "Hex" or Buffy Saint-Marie's "Softer Shade Of Blue," but the cover of obscure songs by The Shangri-La's ("Train From New York City") and Nervous Eaters' "Loretta" come straight out of left-field. Her covers of traditional songs "Wayfaring Stranger" and "This Little Light of Mine" show that she knows a thing or two about the jewels to be found in Americana's vast Traditional treasure-trove.

The Tigers Have Spoken may be all-too-brief, and it might whet the appetite for more Neko Case records, but it serves its purpose well; it's hard to listen to this record and not come away thinking that Case is easily one of the best--and underrated--country singers of our time.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.nekocase.com
Label Website: http://www.anti.com

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