Before I say anything about this week’s record, I ought to acknowledge once again that I am prone to hyperbole. I’m aware of this weakness, and now you are, and you can take that into account when I tell you that there is no finer singer in pop music today than Neko Case.
There are surely amazing performers in, I don’t know, the world of opera, about whom I know nothing or next to it, and there’s a whole world out there beyond the West. But for singers of rock or country or folk music who we’re likely to be familiar with here in North America, she is the very best. Her voice is powerful, clear and bracing. She will not lead you up and down the scale on every syllable. What she will do is pin you up against the wall, metaphorically speaking. Case commands your attention, and her songs tend to have an edge of mystery to them.
I rather hope I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. This is all common wisdom. Normally I’d move on at this point to some very (very) light critical analysis, but this week I’m just going to straight-up tell you: Your life will be better, I am virtually certain, if you give any Neko Case record a try. Specifically, check out her most recent, “Middle Cyclone.” An argument might be made for the album before that, “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” and again, you can’t really go wrong here, but my contention is that, for all the justly deserved praise she gets as a singer, she’s also a gifted and poetic songwriter, and while her voice erupts in full force from the very start of her career, her writing has expanded in scope and grown more nuanced.
The best argument for “Middle Cyclone” is made by the album itself, on its cover: Neko Case, on the hood of a muscle car, wielding a sword. An intentionally amusing image, sure, but frankly a pretty good summation of the levels of power inside. You need this, even if you don’t know it yet.
• Simon Sizer is the legal and obituary clerk at the Yakima Herald-Republic. He’s constantly prattling on about music, so we gave him this column. It runs every two weeks.