Review Summary: Just trying to put a hand to where we are.
The greatest compliment one can pay to case/lang/veirs
is that it somehow lives up to expectations. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs aren’t exactly the type of artists that need introductions; unlike when Case joined a little group of Canadians with cult followings called the New Pornographers in 1999, use of the term “supergroup” here is more than appropriate. Perhaps wary of one voice overtaking the others, over three years of here-and-there recordings the trio have crafted a carefully balanced record, one that gives equal billing to lang’s lush, smoldering voice, the playful wit and enthusiasm in Veirs’ character studies, Case’s brushfire vocals – everything is in it’s place. This conscious effort to ensure that everyone gets a portion of the spotlight could come off as contrived, but it works. That the record opens with as strong a statement of purpose as it does certainly helps: “”I’m not the freckled maid / I’m not the fair-haired girl / “I’m not a pail of milk for you to spoil,” the three trade off on opener “Atomic Number,” a unifying ethos as well as one that sets the tone for the album’s themes. case/lang/veir
is full of imagery that leaps out of the speakers at you, crackling rivers and icy roads and a congesting patina of dust, a lyrical portrait of the jagged natural collage on the album’s cover. More telling is the women who populate its verses, struggling through addictions, love, the “horses on the hill,” “cut grass on the air,” and “wind hot in my hair” that Case romanticizes on “Down I-5”: the beauty of everyday, in other words.
As careful as case/lang/veirs
is to have something for everyone, the album – produced with a careful attention to light, finely manicured detail by Tucker Martine and an ace backing band highlighted by guitarist Tim Young and the shuffling drums of Glenn Kotche – most takes after the windswept vistas of Case’s solo work. A track like the gorgeous, understated “Supermoon,” all ominous fingerpicking and groaning strings, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
. Nor would Veirs’ “Greens of June,” its vaguely threatening Western atmosphere masking a straightforward love song. It’s when this beautiful attention to detail pairs with each singer’s unique gifts that case/lang/veirs hits hardest. Veirs, arguably the best narrator here, pens two of the most heartfelt songs in “Song for Judee” and “Best Kept Secret,” the former the kind of heartbreaking acoustic portrait (of ‘70s singer-songwriter casualty Judee Sill) that few artists besides Veirs could prevent from sliding into syrup. The latter, meanwhile, is the most direct pop hit on the record, a mainline of jubilant chamber pop replete with “ba-ba-ba” backing harmonies, soaring strings and the requisite horn section. lang, meanwhile, is content to explore a mid-tempo, plush cabaret sound that strikes gold right away with the sexy torch song “Honey and Smoke” before finally being boiled down to its essential components on the spartan “1000 Miles Away.” If anything, it’s a bit surprising that lang, certainly the most well known and commercially successful of the trio, doesn’t stretch that battleship of a voice out more, as a song like “Blue Fires” pales in comparison to “Honey and Smoke” preceding it and “Why Do We Fight” is sidetracked by slow, deliberate production grown maudlin by the end of the record. Yet the warmth that she brings to everything here, in harmonies or otherwise, more than makes up for it.
Far from the sort of thrown-together collaboration that is generally de rigueur, case/lang/veirs
stands out because it remains an accurate representation of the sum of its parts, a catalog of what makes its three artists great. No one here really needs the other; that they can come together and produce a record of so many interlocking parts, and so seamlessly, is a testament to their creativity and, more importantly, a willingness to bend. Best of all, it feels less like a paycheck collected and more of a genuine attempt to hash out something fresh and new between artists who respect and appreciate each other. “From the garbage to the stars / we’ll make new constellations,” Case sings on the quiet, achingly gorgeous “Behind the Armory,” and while that’s certainly an exaggeration – it’s difficult to imagine much garbage being involved around any of these women – case/lang/veirs
does an exceptional job of proving Case right.