Neko Case cries into her whiskey on “Middle Cyclone”

Taking time off from her handfuls of side-projects, Neko Case still shines on her own.

PHOTO COURTESY ANT-RECORDS

Ashley Goetz

PHOTO COURTESY ANT-RECORDS

ALBUM: Middle Cyclone LABEL: Anti-Records RELEASE: March 3 What on earth made Neko Case so sad? The flame-haired stunnerâÄôs got a serious ache in that husky voice of hers, much like another bluesy country torcher, the late great Patsy Cline. And in the vein of Cline, Neko croons over lost lovers, wonders what might have been, looks back at romances past but sighs over them and leaves the dust to collect. Neko can mourn with the best of them, but deep down sheâÄôs got sass aplenty. ItâÄôs just hiding for a while, taking a breather with her new release, âÄúMiddle Cyclone.âÄù Neko, a Current favorite and a sometime member of the jovial, poppy New Pornographers, among other musical collectives, has quite an arsenal of solo work behind her. âÄúMiddle CycloneâÄù is her first solo offering since 2006âÄôs âÄúFox Confessor Brings the FloodâÄù and features guest spots from Calexico , M. Ward and NekoâÄôs bandmates from the New Pornographers, with whom she tones down the twang and turns up the indie rock every once in a while. Neko and company experiment with a variety of instrumentation, and they seem particularly taken by the jewel-like ballerinaâÄôs twirl of a music box used throughout âÄúMiddle Cyclone.âÄù The title track, with its quiet, simple chord progressions merging with NekoâÄôs supple honey-toned voice, is the most moving and heartbreaking song on the album, and there are plenty. Neko uses that music box in several other songs; it fades out of âÄúMiddle CycloneâÄù into âÄúThe Next Time You Say Forever.âÄù She trails a circus calliope over the final notes of âÄúThe PharaohsâÄù but always keeps such country standards like the slide guitar and brushed drum in her arsenal. NekoâÄôs phrasing is unique and unexpected. She takes lyrics like âÄúCanâÄôt scrape together quite enough/to ride the bus/to the outskirts of the fact that I need loveâÄù from âÄúMiddle CycloneâÄù and loops them over the simple, uncomplicated chording in an unexpected way. With âÄúPeople Got a Lotta Nerve,âÄù playing about every half hour on the Current, she sings, âÄúIâÄôm a man-a-man-a-maneater, but youâÄôre surprise-prised-prised when I eat ya.âÄù âÄúPeople,âÄù the first single, is catchy and itâÄôs also one of the only upbeat songs on âÄúMiddle Cyclone,âÄù as the majority of the 15 songs lean toward âÄúsad cowgirl blues.âÄù And sad they are, indeed. âÄúDonâÄôt Forget MeâÄù is a cover of a song originally by Harry Nilsson (whose âÄúEverybodyâÄôs TalkinâÄôâÄù is, in PitchforkâÄôs opinion, one of the most mournful songs ever). âÄúIâÄôll miss you when IâÄôm lonely/IâÄôll miss the alimony too,âÄù sings Neko. ItâÄôs sad, a torchy two-step with a saloon piano riff. âÄúI know you think about me/let me know you think about me too.âÄù As fluidly gorgeous and supple as NekoâÄôs vocals are, even without them, âÄúMiddle CycloneâÄù would be more than worth listening to. The instrumentation of the album is so perfectly in tune with both lyrics and vocal cadence that it compliments without upstaging, but still draws a listenerâÄôs ear. Everything from dynamics to tempo has been carefully considered to maximize the impact of the songs. Like Patsy ClineâÄôs repertoire, âÄúMiddle CycloneâÄù has the potential to be timeless.