Alright, here we go with posts about all of the goodies I found recently in Toronto with Mike. I’ll begin with what I scored at BMV on Bloor. Perfectly apt that I start with the inimitable Neko Case…
The 5th Annual Toronto Expedition Series, Part 1 (CD)
Have I ever told you that I love Neko Case? It’s true! Her voice soars and haunts and captivates like no other, and she always makes incredible records.
Call this one Neko’s weather record – lots of tornadoes and natural stuff, mixed in with her usual incredible word-play poetry of love and loss, seeking, and wonder at the world. Tons of great guests* and two cover tunes,** Neko shows off even more range while staying her sweet, sweet self.
* Names you might know include: Kelly Hogan, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jon Rauhouse, Sarah Harmer, Carolyn Mark, Howe Gelb, Garth Hudson, Dallas Good, Travis Good, M. Ward and Kathryn Calder, among many others. See the whole list here!
** “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” by Sparks, and “Don’t Forget Me” by Harry Nilsson.
I am THRILLED to report that Discogs has come through, and I have finally (FINALLY!), gleefully snagged a copy of a Grail List item that has, honestly, been on the list since before I even started the list in the first place…
What a GREAT 10th anniversary present to me!
Now, LP copies are still out there, but I wanted it on CD. Presumably because I like to do things the hard way… Anyway, the LP is next, if I ever see one! I’ve only ever seen one copy on CD in the wild, many years ago, and even then it was prohibitively priced. Neko’s website stopped selling them, and when I emailed to ask, they said it was unlikely that more were coming anytime soon. Gah!
But now this EP is here, thanks to a record shop in Connecticut, and it is a beautiful copy. YES! Let’s have a listen, shall we?
Andy (a Mike O’Neill tune) is a simple guitar bit with Neko’s haunting vocals over top. Glory! What a lovely way to start this disc off… Up next it’s Neil Young’s Dreaming Man, again a perfect version with Kelly Hogan on backing vocals, and other players adding a tasteful mix of guitars, banjo, ukulele and accordion as well. How does Neko sing it like Neil yet still sound like only herself? Magic!
Sook Yin Lee’s Knock Loud features Neko singing… and singing harmony with herself. This is not the first track here to feature this phenomenon. The electric guitars here are glorious, percussive yet also spacey and beautiful. The tune builds and crashes and abates again. Wow. Make Your Bed (a Neko/Sadies song) features banjo and Hawaiian guiar, Kelly Hogan on backing vocals again, and Andrew Bird on violin! It sounds like one of those old honky tonk heartbreak/angry at the other woman tunes, something Loretta Lynn or Emmylou Harris would’ve sung, and it’s awesome.
Poor Ellen Smith is a public domain track, and the banjos are having a party on this one! Neko’s voice soars like it so very much can soar. Holy crap that was awesome. Great storytelling. In California (a Lisa Marr tune) floats along gorgeously, Neko’s voice the main focus but the guitars the glue that holds it all together. Loved it loved it loved it.
Hank Williams’ Alone And Forsaken starts with the sound of a thunder and rain storm, the guitars ease in, and then Neko lifts us off the ground and we never look back. I’ve used the word haunting already to describe the quality of her singing voice, but it’s the best word for it. Ethereal would also work… Neko wrote Favorite, which rounds out this disc, and this is one we all know well because it later appeared on The Tigers Have Spoken. What a great track! Oh my yes. The version here is simple, but also completely effective.
This was originally a tour-only EP, but it later saw a wider release than just at the gigs. If this was the first Neko you’d ever heard, and that would have been likely for many as this was released in 2001, you’d be an instant fan. The tracks here are pure molten liquid glory, recorded perfectly with a big roomy sound, and I just wanted it to go on forever. Time to hit Play again…
If you ever come across this in the shops, do NOT hesitate. Buy it!
Some liner notes:
This album was recorded in my kitchen by Jon Rauhouse and myself. It’s so much easier than I thought, and you can do it in your underwear!
PROTECTED UNDER INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT LAWS. NOT INTENDED FOR MP3 INTERNET DOWNLOADING OR REPRODUCTION OF ANY KIND. THIS IS WHAT WE DO FOR A LIVING. WE HAVE KIDS, BILLS, AND RENT TOO. THANK YOU.
Here is the list of players:
- Andrew Bird – Violin
- Neko Case – Vocals, electric and acoustic tenor guitars, producer, engineer, mixing, photography, drawing, recording
- Mike Hagler – Producer, engineer, mastering
- Kelly Hogan – Vocal harmony
- Andy Hopkins – Guitar (acoustic), guitar (electric)
- Jon Rauhouse – Guitar (acoustic), banjo, engineer, Hawaiian guitar, pedal steel banjo, recording
- Tom Ray – Bass (upright), banjo-ukulele
- Brett Sparks – Vocals
- Chris Von Sneidern – Guitar (12 string acoustic)
Some singers’ voices just have it. When you are listening, you’re well aware that you’re in the presence of genius. And, too, they stay with you long after the record has finished spinning. They are memorable for their uplifting, unique sound, and hearing them in any context makes you sit up and listen, always wanting more.
Neko Case, undeniably, has such a voice.
She can belt it out (oh my goodness, can she!) with an apparent effortlessness, and she can just as easily purr a torch song that’ll leave you melted in your seat. She can wail a hurtin’ track that pulls you right in and leaves you wanting to help her any way you can. She can sound energetic and fun, introspective and thoughtful, sexy and playful. Sometimes all at once.
She brings to mind Patsy, Dolly, Emmy Lou, Tammy and Loretta. But even better, and beyond such comparisons, Neko’s is a voice all unto itself too, a unique gem shining out at us, begging to be heard at every possible opportunity.
This record, recorded with Her Boyfriends, is a fully-lit stage of a showcase of all of Case’s incredible talents. There’s no dust in any of the corners here, unless it’s meant to be there, and then even that makes sense too. Each track grabs and totally holds your attention, putting the rest of whatever your brain was trying to do completely on hold.
The long list of talented musicians here perfectly compliment the songs, adding an inspired panache to the proceedings and perfectly bringing just the right amount of playing to each track. Nothing is overdone, nothing is even close to poorly played. It all works wonderfully, so my heartfelt kudos to everyone involved!
Other names you may recognize, appearing here, include Kelly Hogan, Carl Newman, Ford Pier and Ron Sexsmith, in case you needed any other poking and prodding to get out there and get your own copy of this beauty.
It’s simple: own this and play it often. You’re welcome.
01 Set Out Running
02 Guided By Wire
04 Mood To Burn Bridges
05 No Need To Cry
06 Twist The Knife
07 Thrice All American
08 We’ve Never Met
09 Whip The Blankets
10 South Tacoma Way
11 Bought And Sold
12 Furnace Room Lullaby
I could go on and on about how much I love to listen to Neko Case sing. There’s something incredible in her delivery, in the words themselves, and most importantly in that perfect, hot liquid voice of hers. She could sing entries from the phonebook and she’d have my rapt attention throughout.
Having not yet had the opportunity to see her in concert, this album pleases me to no end. The sound quality’s great, Case is in fine, powerful form, the band is spot on, and the song selection is perfect. Best of all (for me), this album comes from the tour for her completely amazing album Blacklisted, about which I’ve already slobbered, on this site.
Thinking I’m going a little too far in my blissful reportage? Think I’m making this up, or overstating my opinion? Go get yourself a copy of this record, play it through, and you’ll find yourself completely agreeing with me. It’s a cinch. I promise.
Every song on Blacklisted sends chills up my spine, and makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Neko’s voice haunts me, imprinting itself on my brain, echoing long after the CD has finished spinning. The music is brilliantly played, understated, perfectly suited to the seductive rise and fall of her delivery, never once interfering or overpowering. But it’s that voice that totally captivates…
I can keep this review brief, sum it up here: If you don’t own this record, do not sleep until you do. And when you get it, play it repeatedly. It will seep into your blood, and soak into your bones. You will fall in love with the incredible beauty herein.
Need further prodding? Blacklisted officially tied with Guided By Voices’ Universal Truths And Cycles as Album Of The Year for 2002, in my books. And I really love Guided By Voices.