Neko Case hasn't had much need to prove her credentials as a major artist since making her solo debut with 1997's The Virginian, but she's been refining her skills in the recording studio on each subsequent release, and with 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood she's fashioned an album that can cautiously be called a masterpiece. As always, Case's voice, an instrument of impressive strength, grace, and expressive power, is the star of this show, and she's never sounded better than she does here, but what sets this apart from her other fine work is her growth as a songwriter and producer. Case wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and her tales of failed friendship, faith stretched to the breaking point, and love that causes as much ache as comfort are subtle and expressionistic but deeply evocative, conjuring images and feelings that linger long after the album has ended, especially the spectral "Star Witness," the moody yet romantic "That Teenage Feeling" and "Hold on, Hold On," and the darkly beautiful closer, "The Needle Has Landed." And Case and her co-producer, Darryl Neudorf, have assembled a superb cast of musicians to accompany these songs, among them members of the Sadies and Calexico as well as Garth Hudson of the Band, Howe Gelb from Giant Sand, and Kelly Hogan. Together they've sculpted a dozen elegant sonic landscapes that are beautiful and richly detailed while meshing with the moody textures of the songs in their open space and unwillingness to crowd either the singer or the other players. The cumulative effect mirrors both the beauty and the sadness that lurks within the human heart, and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is a rich, mature, and deeply satisfying piece of music that deserves and demands attention -- if this isn't Album of the Year material, it's hard to say what is.
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Neko Case has always been something of a chameleon, a woman capable of manipulating her stunning voice into everything from a torchy purr to a bone-chilling wail. On this, her fourth solo album, she manages to work both ends of that spectrum with ease, waxing both faithful (on her reworking of the hymnal staple "John Saw That Number") and faithless (as on the woozy "A Widow's Toast"). Case taps into the darker parts of the psyche more on this album than she has in quite a while, forging an uneasy sort of bond between classic Carter Family murder balladry and post-James Ellroy peeks into society's underbelly. Those two realms merge with transfixing results on "Dirty Knife," a brooding piece that weaves a tale of a family whose members all go insane simultaneously. She's abetted here by a number of collaborators, the most intriguing of them being longtime Band keyboardist Garth Hudson, who adds a brief note of whimsy to the ultimately tragic "Maybe Sparrow" with his swirling organ and brings a ghostly pallor to the Appalachia-scented "Star Witness" with a subtly insistent piano line. Atypical arrangements and instrumentation are the order of the day -- the hammered dulcimer that guides "The Needle Has Landed" is an especially inspired choice -- but at the end of the day, it's Case's voice that hypnotizes, its siren-like allure beckoning listeners far beyond the normal rock 'n' roll breakwall. It's a trip that's worth taking.
All Music Guide - Mark Deming