Every time writers gush about Neko Case, they pull out a list of classic country singers like Lynn, Parton and Cline, all of whom were always more famous for their voices than their words. In that respect, such comparisons miss the point--they nail her towering voice and country influences, but in spite of Case's love for covers, she has built an astounding songwriter's confidence the past few years, presented clearly in 2002's Blacklisted only to be blown off the highway on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Here, Case spits at the genres those gushing writers had bestowed upon her--punk, country, soul and everything that begins with "alt-" --and presents a true folk album.
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That's not meant as a simple label for lyrics full of wolves, sparrows, clouds and eagles, though Case's love of nature and Ukrainian folk tales doesn't hurt her songs' resulting charm. Rather, her keen look at the world has sharpened to its finest point yet, and her stories and images are the kinds that great folk singers like Dylan once employed to earn their fans' trust and devotion. You won't just sing the words out loud after listening to the haunting melody of "Star Witness," assisted by the able hands of Garth Hudson (The Band) and Joey Burns (Calexico), you'll get stuck in the scene where "my true love drowned in a dirty old pan of oil," staring at a car's wreckage and hearing Case, after pondering the futility of being sad over the whole thing, cry out anyway: "Don't let him die." And certainly, this "folk" album isn't Peter, Paul and Mary territory--riveting country-rockers the Sadies back Case on a few tracks, and she skips the metaphors on bold, lonely songs like "That Teenage Feeling." Fox Confessor's success comes from more than Case's voice; it comes from her perspective, summed up by album closer "When the Needle Touched Down." "An eagle swooped down from a semi-trailer/Took the name of your town from a sharp-toothed freighter/The needle's the same that recorded and played/When you left me at the Greyhound the year I moved away"--Case looks at her world through eyes born in America, raised elsewhere and aimlessly seeking some sense of a home, be that a city or a true love.