I have some catching up to do this afternoon at the office (Corporate Hell) after being away for nearly two weeks; pretty mind-numbing stuff unfortunately. So I figure I may as well keep myself entertained with something new and, hopefully, audibly delicious like the new self-titled ‘Case/Lang/Veirs‘ album featuring female folksters Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs.
This is a bit of shot in the dark on my part. I have quite a few friends who are fans of Neko Case, albeit I’m still largely ignorant of her myself and all I know about k.d. lang is that she’s a lesbian and really loves her cows and digs her vegetables. And Laura Veirs? Never heard of her. However, Patterson Hood certainly has so when I came across this album mention on his Facebook page I decided that it was high time I educate myself on all three (click HERE for other “Patterson’s Picks”) ladies.
According to a press release, Lang emailed the other two musicians “on a whim” with an idea for a collaboration. The resulting album was recorded at lang’s and Veirs’ homes, both in Portland, Oregon. Lang hasn’t released an album since 2011’s ‘Sing It Loud’, and Case’s last album was ‘The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You‘, was released in 2013. Veirs’ most recent album, 2013’s ‘Warp and Weft’, included contributions from both lang and Case. Oh, and Case and Veirs have also recorded and toured together in the past. So this partnership to form some sort of all girl super group seems to be the perfect next step for all three on many levels. This resulting album was released just this past June after nearly two years of collaborating.
The 14-track effort finds inspiration in “a supermoon, the tumbledown story of 70s singer Judee Sill, and the ‘best kept secret’ in Silver Lake”. It all begins mildly enough. At the very start of ‘Atomic Number‘, each singer serves up a line. “I’m not the freckled maid,” offers kd lang, famous since for ever . “I’m not the fair-haired girl,” offers Veirs, former geologist, folk-inclined singer-songwriter of more than a decade’s standing; her partner, Tucker Martine, produced the record. “I’m not a pail of milk for you to spoil,” offers Case finally.
Well, okay then.
It feels, for a horrible nanosecond, like this three-way might end up as some overly polite exercise in lady music, where craft and freckles and mellifluousness win out over the pressing need to say anything substantial. Fortunately it is no and that fear dissolves quickly. ‘Honey and Smoke‘ finds lang hovering somewhere above her melody, an old world atmosphere percolating beneath. Case and Veirs chip in with 60s girl-group “oohs”. Listen closely, though, and the lyric is distilled pain: lang is pleading with a lover, seduced by the “honey and smoke” of other suitors, unable to see the substance of lang’s affection. Lang’s other notional leads (all songs were written collaboratively) are just as exquisite. Sighed more than sung, ‘Blue Fires‘ is a lush country waltz, ‘Why Do We Fight‘ full of tender bewilderment.
Case is on form throughout, her voice twanging hard on ‘Delirium‘, a kind of magic realist reverie. The restless and startling ‘Down 1-5‘, meanwhile, enumerates reasons to keep living – horses on the hill, cut grass on the air – with the mindful resoluteness of someone who might have contemplated the alternative.
By contrast, Veirs’s ‘Song for Judee‘ ponders the tragic life of singer-songwriter Judee Sill. “They found you with a needle in your arm/ Beloved books strewn round your feet,” she sings with forensic clarity. Theoretically the least “country” of the three, Veirs also leads on the magnificent ‘Greens of June‘, a minor-key meditation on having your life saved, a cousin to ‘Down I-5‘ in its gratitude for the little things. Arrangements can often serve as a lazy injection of post-hoc classiness, but the strings here are intrinsic to the drama.
The three have certainly hit upon a sound that is gentle yet resonant, and wrestled out of three fiercely independent careers, an alt-country record of depth and scope. Lang initially imagined their collaboration as a “folk-punk girl group thing”; but it has traveled far further than that. And I am pleased that in the end, I can now happily say that I have been formally introduced to all three and will definitely seek out other albums to enjoy; that, and I didn’t have to grow ovaries to do it.