I heard an NPR interview with Neko Case. After she got off the phone to head to a meet-and-greet at a record store, one of the NPR hosts admitted that the first question he really wanted to ask her was, “Why are you so awesome?”
The answer, to me at least, is simple: She made this record.
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You is another solid record from Neko Case. As I heard a guy in a record store put it as he bought this album without hearing one track from it, “She’s always a safe bet for a good record.”
There’s much to love about Ms. Case and this record. The opener, “Wild Creatures,” throws you right into the middle of the action with powerful vocals and solid musical backing from her band of accomplished pals. “Night Still Comes,” with its enigmatic lyric of “You never held it at the right angle,” has backing vocals by not only Ms. Case but also A.C. Newman and Jim James and sounds like it was recorded in an old church (and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were). “Man,” co-written by Ms. Case’s frequent collaborator and guitarist Paul Rigby seems to have a basic message for men everywhere: Don’t be a dick. Plus, Rigby shreds on it.
“I’m from Nowhere” is just Case’s lovely voice and Jon Rauhouse’s acoustic guitar. It’s a beautiful track about Case’s past…or maybe the past of a girl she met at a truck stop…or maybe every lonely girl you’ve met.
“Bracing for Sunday” is a rocker with great baritone sax by Steve Berlin, but I warn you…It is a fake jab. It’s a fake jab to tease you into thinking, “This rest of this record is going to rock out!” because the cross is coming right behind it.
The cross, the jawbreaker, is “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” It is sad, beautiful, haunting, and something you will not be able to shake. It will get into your gut. I don’t want to describe too much of it because I want you to experience it with innocence.
“Calling Cards” is a song for souls missing their better halves, and proof that Neko Case can literally sing “blah, blah, blah” and make it as beautiful as birdsong. “City Swans” could’ve been a country crossover hit, but Case and her band thankfully keep it rough enough that corporate country radio will (sadly for them) think it won’t be good for their format.
I’m not surprised that Neko Case included a cover of a Christa “Nico” Paffgen song. “Afraid” shows her love of the singer with her namesake and makes me want to crowd fund the production cost for Case to record a psychedelic rock record. “Local Girl” seems to be an indictment against people who teased Case growing up. I could be wrong, but I’m not wrong about its great backing vocals or solid drums from John Convertino and chimes from Craig Schumacher.
Your ears don’t deceive you – that is the sound of submarine sonar at the beginning of “Where Did I Leave That Fire?” I doubt Case left it underwater, unless she lives in the magical, physics-defying world of Bikini Bottom, but it does seem she left it deep inside herself for fear of burning someone she loves with it. It’s breathtaking.
The album ends with “Ragtime,” with its great horn section, and builds to a powerful ending that leaves you with the memory that, as hard as some of the themes on this album are to deal with in life, Neko Case still loves us.
And I love her and this record.
Seriously, she could sing the phone book to me and I’d turn into a gibbering idiot.
~ Nik Havert
Nik Havert is a writer, DJ at WSND 88.9FM University of Notre Dame, harmonica player, martial arts instructor, comic book publisher, crime fighter,music lover, cult movie enthusiast, and modern day Renaissance man. He hopes to shark cage dive sometime in the next few years and enjoys travel and good natural root beer. Visit his web site at http://www.picklepress.net.
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