Album Reviews: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko CaseCountry and alt-country are full of likable, pretty-voiced but personality-free singers, each offering subtle modernizations to the classic molds. Left on their own simple merits, these corresponding albums are nice (and easy) additions to a consumer’s catalog. Compared to Neko Case, though, they start to look pretty Plain Jane by comparison.
This is especially true of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, arguably the best Case record to date -- and inarguably the most important in her development as a solo artist, as it marks not just another testament to her KO-punch voice, but also a real triumph as a songwriter and co-producer. In guest appearances (i.e. John Doe’s “Hwy 5”) and her moonlight gig with The New Pornographers, she is more than willing to play a background role -- although her vocal power never keeps her too far in the shadows. With her solo records, she shines bright lights into every corner of the room.
Although the intimate production and passionate performances suggest that Case is laying herself bare, there is a great deal on Fox Confessor that remains inscrutable even after repeat listens -- and this is to her great advantage. She always sings beautifully, but sometimes it’s while playing storyteller, sometimes while talking from her own life, and sometimes it just isn’t clear at all. For those who pick up the complete package, the mysterious air is enhanced by Julie Morstad, who contributes compelling drawings throughout the CD booklet.
Reverb can be used as a cloak, but Case, like My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, employs it (very liberally) in such a fashion that it seems to somehow draw her more out into the open. Further layering the vocals are Rachel Flotard and Kelly Hogan, who both rise to a tough challenge as backing vocalists.
There is a heavy peppering of near-perfection on Fox Confessor, culminating in “The Needle Has Landed,” which, like much of the album, presents a kaleidoscope of moods, from forceful to self-deprecating, from poppy and jaunty to wistful and melancholy. When her voice cuts through the speakers at the very beginning -- “Here I am…” -- the production is so warm that the lyric feels literal. Other highlights include the driving western atmospherics of “Hold On, Hold On” and the patient melodic purity of “Star Witness.”
The more traditional churchy songs, like “John Saw That Number,” are lively and yet distant; the rest of the album is so indelibly hers and hers alone -- and ambitiously moving away from genre confines -- that momentum is tripped, albeit only briefly, by this foray into the past. -- Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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