When Neko Case opened her winter tour in Northampton in January, she played mostly songs she rarely gets to perform live as a bit of a palate-cleanser before releasing a new album that will necessitate playing her better-known songs onstage later in the year. It was, frankly, amazing to hear her sing "The Needle Has Landed" and "A Widow's Toast" from "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" or the title track from "Middle Cyclone," along with a bunch from the excellent and overlooked "Canadian Amp" EP.
Now the deep-cut interlude is over. Case this week said she'll release new album "Hell On" June 1, on Anti, and then hit the road with Ray LaMontagne for a tour that includes a Connecticut stop June 26 in Wallingford and a western Massachusetts stop June 29 at Mass MoCA in North Adams. The press release announcing the album came with a statement from Case that reads, in part:
My style is odd, I don't know what genre this is. I don't have a pretty voice or a trained voice, and I am constantly disappointed that I don't have a "tough" voice, no matter how hard I practice, but it's mine, and for all its loud, heavy-handed, nasal, vibrato-less qualities I accept it. The closest sound I have found to compare it to is Bulgarian Folk singing. My Eastern ancestors could have been proud of me a century ago? I could have been a droning "caller of wasps" perhaps? I just invented that job, I like the sound of it.
She's likely to get plenty of disagreement over the pretty voice bit, but the style of the title track from "Hell-On" is definitely odd. It's almost like she spliced two different songs together, her subdued waltz-time musings on the Almighty ("God is a lusty tire fire," she sings) changing time signatures as it morphs into a wash of keening keyboards and guitars, and then returning to three-quarter time and a dire, whispered warning: "Be careful." It's at once unlike any song she's put out, and unmistakably a Neko Case tune.
Also, how about that cover art?