Ain't no denying that Neko Case has an amazing voice. Her tone is like no other, full-bodied and plaintive, sexy and spirited. After several country-tinged solo albums, she seemed like an unlikely fit for the poppy New Pornographers in theory, but when that first album hit with her luscious harmonies wrapped all around Carl Newman's wimpy lisp like Red Vines, it all made sense. Now, with Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, it seems the perfect time for Neko to finally hit the jackpot with her solo career and become a full-fledged star. She has even dropped out of the New Pornographers, ostensibly to do just that. Unfortunately, it ain't gonna happen with this album.
When Neko made the huge artistic leap from her honky-tonk debut The Virginian to the sweeping, powerful, moody and masterful Furnace Room Lullaby, it seemed to be just a matter of time before she would rival the Dixie Chicks, or at least Lucinda Williams, in the world of sassy alt-country divas. But her releases since then, although wonderful in spots and boasting some fabulous performances, have never exceeded what she achieved on Lullaby. Perhaps she has been spread too thin, trying to maintain a grueling touring and recording schedule with the New Pornographers whilst continuing her own solo efforts. But judging from her musical choices, her songwriting, and her live performances, it seems Ms. Case just wants to stay indie and take it easy when it comes to her own thing.
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood does have some gorgeous moments, and if you've never heard Neko before, it's a fine place to start. The musicianship and arrangements are top-notch, featuring the likes of John Convertino and Joey Burns of Calexico/Giant Sand, Garth Hudson of The Band, and her lovely vocal partner Kelly Hogan, who adds Cocteau Twins-like ethereal harmonies to the mix. The songs range from three-quarter time acoustic strumming, to, well, more of the same. Oh there's some other stuff too, some nice a capella and some twangy electric, but for the most part this is a mellow mood, perfect for working in the garden or drinking some red wine.
Although we so want to see great success for our favorite flame-haired siren, in another way it's refreshing to see someone just enjoy herself and not get too hung-up on moving forward. Kind of zen, actually. Judging by her past couple of releases, Canadian Amp and The Tigers Have Spoken, Neko definitely benefits from the fruits of other songwriters. She has a knack for finding great songs and giving them the treatment they deserve. Perhaps she will consider using her friends' songwriting talents as well in the future as she does their musicianship on this album. There can be a happy balance, and hopefully she'll find it.