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Neko Case
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
ANTI- Records

Equally grounded in '50s country and contemporary punk, folk, electronica, alt-country, and jazz, Neko Case's first studio album in four years, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, is a poetic collection of tales of the downtrodden and the desperate, the heartbroken and the lonely. Recorded with the help of The Sadies, Jon Rauhaus, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, Howe Gelb, The Band's Garth Hudson, and Case's frequent on-stage guest Kelly Hogan, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood captures moments in time, fragments of life that serve as turning points for her characters. As is expected in country music, Case's characters usually find their lives changing for the worse, and yet Case manages somehow to imbue the album with hope, making Fox Confessor Brings The Flood both uplifting and melancholy, rollicking and ominous.

The opening track, "Margaret Vs. Pauline," is the tale of two women beholden to the circumstances of life and birth set to a lilting folk-pop melody. The comparison between the two women is best summed up by the song's closing lines "two girls ride the blue line/two girls walk down the same street/one left her sweater sittin' on the train/the other lost three fingers at the cannery/everything's so easy for Pauline." Filled with jazzy brush drums and resonating guitar, the following track, "Star Witness," immortalizes the moment in which a woman loses her lover when his '69 Falcon plunges off a treacherous stretch of highway. Here Case's brassy contralto is at its most beautiful, most pleading, most rugged when she croons, "my nightgown sweeps the pavement, please/don't let him die/oh how I forgot..." The poetry of Case's lyrics becomes apparent in the details she includes in each song - from the image of Pauline's hair of "cinnamon waves" and Margaret's "parking lot eyes" to the opening lines of "Star Witness" in which she sings "my true love drowned in a dirty old pan/of oil that did run from the block/of a falcon sedan 1969/the paper said '75."

The tempo and foreboding feel pick up with "Hold On, Hold On," Case's most autobiographical song on Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. "The most tender place in my heart is for strangers/I know it's unkind but my own blood is much too dangerous," she belts out over a haunting reverberating guitar intro. "Hold On, Hold On" is the cynical tale of a woman who has given up on love and found that fate makes promises it fails to keep. "That Teenage Feeling" is an equally enigmatic musical affair. Comprised of a harpsichord intro, twangy guitars that fade in and out, and a sing-along punk-infused refrain, "That Teenage Feeling" is a jaded love song in which Case quietly inquires "Did they fill me with so many secrets that keep me from loving you?" The title track has a far more ominous feel than either "Hold On, Hold On" or "That Teenage Feeling." Grounded in the Ukrainian fables Case's grandmother once told her, "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" is a three-minute country-rock lament that finds Case's protagonist question faith and her own fate. "Who married me to these orphan blues?" she asks over echoing baritone guitar and stuttering brush drums reminiscent of the title track of 2002's Blacklisted.

"John Saw That Number" finds Case harkening back to a different folk tradition - that of American Gospel music. With traditional lyrics and music written by Case, "John Saw That Number" begins with Case and Kelly Hogan singing a capella, before building into a driving rock rhythm complimented by Garth Hudson's delicate piano and organ touches. "Dirty Knife," by contrast, has the feel of Case's earlier murder ballad, "Furnace Room Lullaby," with ominous cello and foreboding bowed bass courtesy of Calexico's Joey Burns and aching soprano backing vocals from the aforementioned Ms. Hogan. Inspired by the story Case's grandmother once told her of a family who went mad in the Washington wilderness (a malady which Case attributed to possible lead poisoning), "Dirty Knife" ends with Case and Hogan's haunting vocalizations in Bulgarian to convey the lead character's descent into madness.

The true highlight of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, however, does not come until ten tracks in with the morose, folk-inspired "Maybe Sparrow." Beginning with faint guitar strums and foreboding cello, "Maybe Sparrow" builds to a crescendo, culminating in the punk-infused gunfire drums and guitar, before falling quiet and building once again to a mid-range tempo. Case's voice perfectly accents each change in tempo - an aching lilt at the beginning, becoming a tenacious growl as the tempo builds, ascending and descending in tone with each change in the music - as she warns the precious sparrow of the dangers she may find in the world. "Maybe sparrow you should wait/the hawk's alight till morning," she croons at the outset. The album's closer, "The Needle Touched Down," runs a close second to "Maybe Sparrow" as the high point of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. The musical equivalent of a midnight drive on a deserted, rural highway, "The Needle Touched Down" features a driving, yet intricate, rhythm, a lilting keyboard and guitar melody, quiet mandolin touches, and a soaring cello refrain. Lyrically, "The Needle Touched Down" is the story of lost love, poverty, and regrets set in Case's hometown, Spanaway, Washington, featuring the upbeat, immortal rock 'n roll line, "the needle has landed/let it play" as well as images of "semi-trailers," Greyhound buses, and "sharp-toothed freighters" - making the song at once resigned and strangely hopeful.

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is a masterpiece of poetic lyrics and catchy, intricate melodies, of sublime musicianship and risk-taking musical experimentation, that defies categorization. Case's lyrics are full of extraordinary images and the complexities of human emotions, yet they have a thematic universality that allows all listeners to relate. Her music is at once joyous and sinister, often running the gamut within mere seconds. For those who thought Blacklisted would be Neko Case's immortal musical and lyrical treasure...think again.

-Tracy M. Rogers

Track List:
1. Margaret Vs. Pauline
2. Star Witness
3. Hold On, Hold On
4. Widow's Toast
5. That Teenage Feeling
6. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
7. John Saw That Number
8. Dirty Knife
9. Lion's Jaws
10. Maybe Sparrow
11. At Last
12. The Needle Has Landed

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