Middle CycloneAlbum | Neko Case By Stewart Mason
Former alt-country siren fully delivers on her promise.
Seven albums later, Neko Case fully delivers on the promise she's held since 1997's The Virginian marked her as an alt-country upstart to watch. She's long since outgrown that too-restrictive genre label, of course: 2006's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood was simply a fine singer-songwriter album, closer in sound and spirit to Elvis Costello or even Laura Nyro than a 21st-century Loretta Lynn. Middle Cyclone features nearly all the friends and confederates who contributed to that album (from members of The Sadies and Calexico to The Band's Garth Hudson) and more besides, but in sound and spirit, it's a tremendous leap forward from even Case's best earlier work. Largely recorded in a dirt-floored barn on Case's newly-purchased Vermont farm, Middle Cyclone feels like the work of a wandering spirit who's finally ready to put down roots. (The album even ends with half an hour of frogs croaking in a nearby pond.) Crucially, however, this settled-in feel is matched by Case's finest songwriting to date, from the yearning rush of "This Tornado Loves You" to the gorgeously cinematic drama of "Prison Girls." There's also two typically idiosyncratic-but-perfect covers, Sparks' "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth" and Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me."