Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
It was not that long ago that country music was a sacreligious pleasure. Thoughts of the genre would conjure up nothing but twangy guitars, drunken heartbreak, NASCAR, and Billy Ray Cyrus. However, the days of vehement opposition have subsided. Country music has danced with Nelly in the pale moonlight, infected Kid Rock and his fans with healthy doses of southern inflection, and is experiencing a significant boom in the independent music community with the critically acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line." The forum of American country music is no longer a kitschy realm of beer-fueled jingoism and love gone wrong; it has become important to today's youth and culture.
This popular music sea change bodes well for Virginian songstress Neko Case. Even with critical acclaim for her 2002 album Blacklisted and her work with the ineffably soaring New Pornographers, her songs are relatively unknown to many of us. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is here to change that. From the opening dreamy southwest landscaped evoked by "Margaret vs. Pauline," it's obvious that this won't be a drunken love affair. The poetic interpretation of misguided jealousy flowing gently from her mouth seems to drift intricately through the night sky. Her voice swells and falls at perfect moments and the music is consistently soft enough to let her lyrics take hold, but melodic and layered enough to be fortuitously engaging. "Star Witness" and "That Teenage Feeling" further similar sentiments. These are not so much songs as they are hyper-real narratives. Even if you cannot relate to them, you get the feeling that these characters - either longing for love, understanding, or just a better global sense of reality - and their issues must not be treated as trivial. Even the songs that clock in at under two minutes ("A Widow's Toast" and "At Last") stroll curiously through your mind and manage to leave carvings on the bark of the trees. When you picture 'spectres (moving) like pilot flames ("Toast"), it is difficult not to be drawn into the woods.
Many guests appear on this album as well, rising from all ends of the earth to converge on Fox Confessor. Members of Calexico, the Sadies (for whom Neko has employed backing vocals), and even multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson from the Band all contribute with unassuming elegance. A penetrating example, "Dirty Knife," mixes the subtle with the unsettling as strings trade delicate plucks and ebullient jabs beneath the pulpit, the priestess, and her tenebrous homily. As the album becomes fully experienced, Dan Bejar and Carl Newman's influences from her work with the New Pornographers become - for better or worse, depending on individual enjoyment of their work - more evident. Her propensity to abandon choruses and treat her songs as long-verse poetry take some acclimation to those new to the style. Bejar's opaque, cryptic, and occasionally dense metaphors peek their heads out during certain moments and perpetuate moments of confusion and frustration with the stories but with time and hearty attention, they are resolved as part of the journey. The stumbles of her stargazing do not weigh down the experience nearly enough to spoil it.
The only downside to the work of Neko Case is that she may have started off showcasing her talent about half a century too late. The current landscape of independent music does not allow enough leeway for alt-country poets-as-singers and the mainstream country scene may flounder in their newfound attention and excess too much to pay attention to a genuine woman who has stories to tell and paid dues. However, if people are moved enough by the pop culture resurgence of Johnny Cash, they might actually listen to his music and the music of his wife. It could snowball into a realization that Neko Case came to herself. Certain artists passionately relay ideas, stories, gospels, and anthems like 21-gun salutes to the universe as a whole. They never forgot that music didn't just mean something; it could very well mean damn near everything. With Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Neko Case further realizes her own potential and in doing so, reminds the rest of us about the roots of a genre that still has limitless potential. The title track asks, "How can people not know what beauty this is?" I'm with her on this one.
Release date: March 7, 2006
Rating: 8.8 / 10
On the web: http://www.nekocase.com
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