case / lang / veirs
It’s always really something when the final product delivers on the obvious hype around the project. Here Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs have collaborated – made, if you must, “a supergroup” (you get the feeling they’d hate that tag – deserved though it might be). The case / lang / veirs collaboration took a few years to finally come together in the recording-a-full-album sense, but the bond was formed, simply enough, when lang sent the others an email telling them she’d love to work with them; that they should work together. “Great” came the shared replies. And it was on.
First stop, k.d. and Neko added their voices to a Laura Veirs record. Another couple of years on and we have a full set of recordings. It is so close to perfect, an essentially flawless record and one that showcases many, many strengths. First of all we have three very fine – different-sounding – singers. The blend of their voices is exquisite but those individual strengths are all highlighted, meaning, if you arrive at this project a fan of Veirs you’ll likely hold onto that but might go away with two new favourite singers, the same is true if lang’s your gal or if you’re primarily a Neko Case fan. If you were already a fan of all three then this is merely confirmation, proof of a celestial connection.
The softer, breathy textures Veirs offers are a nice contrast to the huge warmth and depth of lang’s most incredible voice. She parades across this album like a veteran scene-stealing actor, though no hamming, always with utmost subtlety; just a command that is always there. She can sing anything. And here, thankfully, she has some songs that are stronger than the material she’s been nearly slumming it with in recent years – relying on too many covers and soft collaborations. You get the feeling here she’s revitalised, challenged, on point as a result. She really is a most amazing singer.
Case is perhaps the cameo-artist here, and that’s fine. Though all three have composed and in some instances co-composed the material, Neko Case is based in another city, so she added to the project in and around other work commitments and where travel permitted. No matter, her soaring wail is majestic – she is modern country’s great torch singer. And some of her performances here remind of those early, vital records she made. (Well, she’s still making great records on her own of course).
Veirs plays guitar, wrote at least two of the best songs here (and seems to have been the glue, writing-wise) and her husband, Tucker Martine, handles the production. He has a magic touch – including the recruitment of two of modern music’s great sympathetic sidemen who are able to still offer virtuoso-level dazzle – Wilco’s Glenn Kotche (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Rob Burger (Tin Hat Trio, John Zorn). Martine drizzles strings across the songs, always imbuing, never cloaking. He keeps the band-sound light, focussed. There’s no room here for rock-star soloing, just perfect placement. There are hints of Motown and Stax and the modern country productions as heard on Sturgill Simpson’s last two records.
And the songwriting is terrific. Veirs’ ode to Judee Sill was apparently on the leftovers list at one point, yet you’ll always hear it as an album highlight.
And lang has contributed some of her best material in at least a decade, yet another of her blue ballads (Blue Fires) and that perfect croon also owns 1000 Miles Away and the record’s penultimate cut, Why Do We Fight.
case / lang /veirs has none of the fireworks of what some might expect from an Album of The Year but it has something far more important: the music. It’s one of the strongest sets of songs I’ve heard this year, one of the best albums based around voices I’ve heard in a long time and a return to form (though none of these artists has ever strayed too far) for all. It is the perfect meeting of not only these three voices and musical minds but of
singers and songs, of players and production.
Maybe it will be the start of an ongoing band/project or it might just stand alone as the one and only record this trio records under this handle. Either way it’s really something special, gorgeously arranged, written, produced and performed. There’s nothing more to ask for – beyond the hope that it gets the audience and accolades it deserves.