Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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The cover photo for 2009's Middle Cyclone found indie rock civil defense siren Neko Case warning the masses of potentially deadly weather from atop the hood of a 1967 Mercury Cougar. It was a striking image, and one that perfectly captured both the album's quiet might and her distinctive Patsy Cline-meets-Rosie the Riveter allure. Once again barefoot and wielding a samurai sword, Case squares off against a trio of serpents on the front jacket of 2013's like-minded, yet decidedly more adventurous The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, a 12-track horn of plenty that taunts, comforts, bruises, and empowers, and like all of her previous offerings, rewards repeated spins with a multitude of riches. Her most vulnerable and permeable collection of songs to date, it's not quite Neko Case unchained, but it's certainly as emotionally raw as it is willfully enigmatic, especially on quieter numbers like "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu," "I'm from Nowhere," and an airy, evocative cover of Nico's "Afraid," all three of which benefit from the barest of arrangements. That said, when Case decides to go big, she doesn’t skimp on the trimmings (guest spots are populated by the likes of M. Ward, Howe Gelb, Mudhoney's Steve Turner, and members of Calexico, Los Lobos, My Morning Jacket, Visqueen, and of course, the New Pornographers and longtime shadow Kelly Hogan), but her version of opulence is mired in great taste, which affords superb, midtempo offerings like "Night Still Comes, "Ragtime," and "Local Girl," straight-up dirt road rockers such as "City Swans," and the punk-infused, delightfully subversive single "Man" ("I'm a man, that's what you raised me to be/ I'm not your identity crisis/This was planned") the room they need to flex their considerable muscle while maintaining an air of warm, almost casual bombast that invokes names like Sandy Denny and Dusty Springfield. It's some of her most instantly gratifying work as well, perfectly encapsulating all of her personas, from the erudite, whiskey-shooting provocateur to the sweet and soulful, small town crooner who sounds like she was plucked from the pages of a novel set in the antebellum north. Case has proven time and again that she has the songwriting chops to match her earthy, superlative voice, but never with such authority.

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