Neko Case
The Tigers Have Spoken
2004
B+



who would’ve honestly thought that Loretta Lynn would continue to loom so large over popular music, more than a decade after Whitney Houston turned one of her sweetest ballads into an octave-shattering, 15-week chart-topping smash hit and nearly a quarter-century after Sissy Spacek won herself an Oscar for portraying her onscreen?

First there was Jack and Meg White worshipping faithfully at the Church of Loretta. They covered “Rated X”, as a B-side, with Jack assuming vocal duties, as he did on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” When I caught the White Stripes live two years ago, however, it was Meg, with her endearingly thin voice and limited range, taking the reins on Lynn’s divorcee anthem, singing lines as (no doubt) calculatedly, yet (nevertheless) poignantly, self-reflexive as “If you’ve been a married woman and things didn’t seem to work out / Divorce is the key to bein’ loose and free so you’re gonna be talked about”.

On The Tigers Have Spoken, a live album composed of covers, traditionals and previously recorded Neko Case tracks as well as new ones, Neko offers her own distinctive take on the song. Sounding characteristically effusive, sexy but with that knowing wink, she comes, perhaps, the closest yet to capturing the spirit of the classic original. Appropriately, she also covers the Nervous Eaters’ “Loretta” here and, on both songs, Neko’s backing band, the Sadies, sound like they’re having as much fun as their frontwoman while smartly keeping in mind who’s the star of the show.

Neko possesses one of the most terrifically powerful voices in music today; her only real competition being Bjork and Corin Tucker, though Neko arguably trumps both women in terms of versatility. Hearing her sing—whether belting out those impossibly high notes for a New Pornographers track or in country siren mode for her solo work—is always a pleasure. She has a penchant for histrionics, but her dramatic flair is a large part of her charm. On her country albums in particular, Neko plays to the hilt the part of the spurned, lovesick chanteuse.

The finest moments on Tigers are, not coincidentally, the ones where Neko sounds ready to do something other than enjoy the party. The two clearest examples of this are the album’s first and last songs. The former, “If You Knew”, is a dark, rock-tinged track that would’ve not only made sense on Neko’s 2002 Blacklisted, but would’ve stood out as a highlight on an already-excellent album. Even better is the album’s closer, Neko and the Sadies’ version of the traditional number “Wayfaring Stranger”. The song reminds me immediately of PJ Harvey covering The Cradle Will Rock’s “Nickel Under the Foot” as the final number at a Paris concert of hers that I have on CD. Both are exquisitely haunting performances; strangely perfect as eerily calm endings to shows that were evidently anything but.



Reviewed by: Josh Timmermann
Reviewed on: 2004-11-16
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