It would be easy to call Neko Case alt-country's answer to k.d. lang; after all, they both began their career in Canada (although Case was raised in America), both came into country music through artier pursuits, and both blend trad-style twang with a modernist lyrical perspective. But Case also has a couple more important things in common with lang -- she has a superb voice that's as big as all outdoors, and there's nothing at all ironic about her love for the luxurious sadness of classic country & western. Case fronts a dramatically revamped line-up of Boyfriends on her second solo album, Furnace Room Lullaby, and it's even stronger and more impressive than her fine debut set, The Virginian. Case co-wrote all of the album's 12 songs, and the material strikes a more deeply personal note this time out, from the busted romance of "Set Out Running" and "We've Never Met" to the road-weary and unsentimental nostalgia of "Thrice All American" and "South Tacoma Way" (not many artists could put a lump in your throat at the notion of a Wal-Mart replacing the old downtown, but Case does it here). Case's vocals are superb from front to back, as smooth and fiery as good brandy, and her revolving circle of musicians (including Ron Sexsmith and Kelly Hogan on backing vocals) are subtle and beautifully evocative, balancing sorrow and good times with an easy grace. Dozens of rock artists have wrung cheap laughs from the sound and feel of classic country, but Neko Case understands the honest emotions and working-class poetry Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton brought to their best music, and if her own take on such things is a bit different, Furnace Room Lullaby makes clear how deeply she cares for this music, and confirms her status as one of alt-country's strongest artists.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming