Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Case, Neko

album cover

Great Vignettes-in-Progress, Endings Optional

Booker T. Washington once defined excellence as "doing a common thing in an uncommon way." The act of telling stories in song certainly qualifies as a common thing—the world is full of singer-songwriters, would-be poets armed with guitars and the desire to share their deepish innermost thoughts.

Very few practitioners, however, offer tales as uncommon—and vividly wrought—as those found on Neko Case's fourth studio album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Case writes in snapshots, not full narratives. Her vignettes-in-progress follow carefully wrought characters into a brief and often pivotal moment, only to disappear before telling "what happened."

Hardly any of the songs have endings, happy or otherwise, and that openness can be unsettling to those accustomed to conventional resolutions. It can also be quite liberating. Case tells of schoolgirl rivalry ("Margaret vs. Pauline") in the singsong lilt of overheard gossip. She sketches a neighborhood reacting to a tragedy ("Star Witness") as a series of fleeting, disconnected details that might have been gleaned from the newspaper. In many cases, her images feel more like detours than plotlines. "Lion's Jaws" is an account of a lover's treachery, but it begins with Case's awed appreciation of a natural vista: "How can people not know what beauty this is, I've taken it for granted my whole life . . . since the day I was born."

Until this album, Case's reputation rested largely on her stripped-down Americana songs and her sturdy "classic-country" singing voice, which has earned comparisons to Patsy Cline (see p. 175). The voice remains the same—not many singers can do both the harrowing swoops of "Maybe Sparrow" and the gospel-roadshow shouting on "John Saw That Number." But Case changed everything else. The songs got spookier, the lyrics more opaque, resembling hastily scrawled first drafts; in fact, she told interviewers, she intentionally did little fussing over the lyrics. And she cultivated an often desolate atmosphere closer to Joni Mitchell's Hejira than anything country. The setting suits these songs: Like a fortune-teller casting runes, Case scatters an array of glittering fragments and then walks away, leaving listeners to cobble the story together. Or not.

Genre: Rock
Released: 2006, Anti
Key Tracks: "Star Witness," "Hold On, Hold On," "That Teenage Feeling," "Dirty Knife."
Catalog Choice: Blacklisted.
Next Stop: Joni Mitchell: Hejira
After That: Laura Veirs: Year of Meteors
Book Pages: 150–151

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#1 from Adam Herbst, New Jersey - 04/25/2009 8:43

Other side of the coin of Sinead O’Connor?  Neko doesn’t know what she hasn’t got.

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