A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tunesday 16: Neko Case, Force of Nature

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone

Every now and then, you need to listen to something that has a power that just drags you out of your tired brain and sets you on a new path. This album is a powerful example of such art. I don't know how I never discovered Neko Case until this year, but all's well that ends well.

In the few weeks that this has been out, it has become one of my favorite things. Neko Case launches this, her fifth solo album, with her amazing voice in fine, powerful form. Some call Neko an "alt-country queen," but since that puts her in the company of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo (both of whom she can sing circles around for all their genius) this is quite a complement. This album has a finer rock edge to it than previous works, such as her debut The Virginian.

The title track, of course, starts off speaks to the emptiness of heart that this time of year always pulls me toward: "Baby, why'm I worried now, did someone make a fool of me/ 'Fore I could show 'em how it's done?/ Can't give up actin' tough, it's all that I'm made of./ Can't scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love." "This Tornado Loves You" has the great line, "Carve your name across three counties," which is an image with which only someone who has emerged shaken after hours under a mattress to the tune of storm sirens can relate. "Polar Nettles," is haunting and disturbing and lovely, a paean to longing that I think of every time I hear someone rewrite history every time they think of someone they've lost-- with every day that passes, the more perfect that lost love appears to be, and the less reality has any claim upon the memory.

Probably my favorite song on the entire album is "Magpie to the Morning," a somnolent snapshot easing along on a warm breeze of acoustic guitars and Neko's insistent alto slices and slides into the slip skimming along like a purple martin over the tops of prairie grass.

Magpie comes a-calling
Drops a marble from the sky
Tin roof sounds alarm
And wake up child
Let this be a warning says the magpie to the morning
Don't let this fading summer pass you by
Don't let this fading summer pass you by

Black hands held so high
The vulture wheels and dives
Something on the thermals
Yanked his chain
Smelled your boring apex
Rotting on the train tracks
He laughed under his breath
Because you thought that you could outrun sorrow
Take your own advice
Thunder and lightening gets you rain
Run an airtight mission, a Cousteau expedition
To find a diamond at the bottom of the drain
A diamond at the bottom of the drain

Hear the mockingbird sing
In the middle of the night
All of his songs are stolen so he hides
Stole them out from whipporwills
Screaming car alarms
He sings them for you special
He knows you're afraid of the dark
Come on sorrow
Take your own advice
Hide under the bed
Turn out the light
Stars this night in the sky are ringing out
You can almost hear them saying
"Close your eyes now, kid,"
"Close your eyes now, kid."

Morning is too far lit
They are waiting waiting
They are waiting...

Here is her performance of "This Tornado Loves You" on Letterman:

And as a bonus, here's one of my favorite classics of hers: "Hold On, Hold On."

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