Neko Case’s new album Middle Cyclone, is well titled. A force of nature, it’s a commanding collection of songs not only showcasing the beauty and strength of her voice, but it’s also an intelligently conceived expression of a bold though suppressed anger of the overlooked feminine psyche. More overtly, the album is a warning not to overlook the force of mother nature herself; in the closing thirty minutes Case deliberately bends our ears toward the night music of the marsh, the crying of crickets and frogs. But more than that, Case alludes to the theme of the feminine being taken for granted, and the resulting cyclone in wait.
Be forewarned, the first half of the record starts with the “tiniest sparks” and the “tenderest sound”, a lovely beginning to the showcase, as it were. Once the listener reaches “I’m an Animal”, however, the cyclone becomes manifest, a darkening crescendo of turbulence. With all songs are fairly short and predictably impressive, the absolute masterpiece for me is the longer “Prison Girls”; it’s a funeral dirge for those women eternally unimpressed, who’ve “traded more for cigarettes than I’ve managed to express”.
Middle Cyclone is an hugely solid album with incredible accompaniment. The sound is awash with the drums, upright bass, piano, and guitars from eternal alt-country ambassadors Howe Gelb, Calexico, and M. Ward. Case’s own band is impeccable as well, not only highlighting her voice but surrounding it with a fullness that nearly suffocating. As usual, the lyrics are as haunting as in any prior Neko Case release, too. Standing equal with Fox Confessor, Middle Cyclone is yet another jewel in Case’s crown.
Sometimes there appears a voice heard on the periphery, and once you hear it you can only hear it again and again; it’s like eating at the Bellagio Buffet, with all the style and variety there is no option but to consume more until explosion is imminent.
Such is the case with Jolie Holland. As with other alt-country sirens such as Neko Case, Holland is deliciously, completely captivating, particularly on her new album The Living and the Dead. Her voice is so full and nuanced that without careful attention to her lyrics one can and probably will hang on her every note like a shipwrecked Greek sailor.
More so than on previous releases, Holland raises the tempo on this album, making it more accessible for newbies. And though I am scrambling to recollect the milieu of her past releases, I can say that The Living and the Dead is more oriented toward rock ‘n roll than it typically would be a clever mash of blues, folk and country. Another reason why I favor L&D is the inclusion of some first rate guitarists such as M. Ward and Marc Ribot lending their talents.
As if Holland didn’t already emulate the alt-country / southwestern genre at its most unique, this particular album cements her emergence. Mexico City, Corrido por Buddy, and Palmyra are immaculate, with Fox in its Hole and Your Big Hands as the other standout songs. Though quality, the remaining songs just don’t reach the heights as the others, and thus the album as a whole is slightly incomplete for me; were a different closing song chosen rather than the more frolicky Enjoy Yourself, L&D would have been less anti-climactic and thus perfect.
Nevertheless, Jolie Holland is absurdly captivating.
Neko Case, for those unawares.
Initially I wasn’t sure about adding reviews about music as I intended the blog to serve as a marker for what I’ve been reading, but really, why not? Us library geeks write about gaming, movies, comics, manga, etc. so why shouldn’t new and creative music be included, even if we’re not music librarians?
For those unaware of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, the Tucson-based band and its leader never look beyond the scope of their current experiment. An experiment which usually necessitates a southwestern desert haze and interstellar outlook. In his subtle singing droll of a voice, Gelb strolls along the border between wry resignation and light hearted whimsy, his band never veering from the laid-back rock and and roll it so effortlessly oozes.
Gelb is a musician who takes his time and never sticks to a formula. Other than combining a smoke-filled, saloon-sounding piano with the twang and buzz of southwestern guitar. Not to mention a little backup from friends like Neko Case, M. Ward and Marie Frank, with the resulting sound like a musical equivalent of a deep, dark drive down the highway at twilight. Standout tracks from the new release called proVISIONS include ‘Increment of love’, ‘Stranded Pearl’, ‘Belly full of fire’ and ‘Well enough alone’.
I’ll admit I have a stake in this review, as Giant Sand is one of my favorite bands. That being said, this new album by Howe Gelb and company is, for me, the most consistent release from the Sandmen in quite some time. I daresay that I think it’s slightly more cohesive than their masterpiece Chore of Enchantment. Which means that it is astonishingly brilliant.
take a listen to some samples from proVISIONS.