case/lang/veirs = Parton/Ronstadt/Harris + Buckingham/Nicks/McVie
With a stroke of pure vocal beauty lighting their way, the unexpected musical trio of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs presents 14 original collaborative compositions as a group comprising their last names, case/lang/veirs. Responding to a simple email from lang that read, “I think we should make a record together,” the women did just that in Seattle with producer—and Veirs’ partner, incidentally—Tucker Martine (Camera Obscura, The Decemberists, REM) at the helm. The results range from a balance of torch songs, folk songs and pop songs, all dusted with a little magic on them.
When this project was announced—via the dazzlingly radiant first single, “Atomic Number”—it was apparent that this would be both a unique and successful collaboration. Eschewing covers completely, all of these original compositions have a sheen from being touched by the Midas voices of all three of these talented women. There is an earnest, nearly laid-back simplicity to the overall sound, and perhaps the most striking feature of all is the lack of anyone “outsinging” the other. Like the best of lang’s work (and arguably, she is the biggest name here), there is an inherent holding-back to the vocal theatrics, which only enhances the emotional weight of the songs. How refreshing that is! Indeed, “Atomic Number” rhetorically questions, “Why are the wholesome things the ones we make obscene?”
The lovely “Honey and Smoke” recalls ’50s doowop in its backing vocals, with lang’s emotive voice dripping with longing. “Song For Judee” is a Veirs-led, catchy ode to late ’70s singer/songwriter Judee Sill, referencing both her influential back catalog (“The Kiss”) and her troubled life and tragic death. lang’s impassioned voice returns for the main vocals of the torch-y “Blue Fires,” which also boasts some lovely harmonizing from the trio. The unmistakable lead vocals of Case highlight “Delirium” (with the great line “kaleidoscoping in”), while all three voices announce the haunting “Greens of June.”
The plaintive and pretty Case-led “Behind The Armory” leads into the Veirs–led highlight, “Best Kept Secret,” yielding yet another catchy chorus with the ladies’ seamless vocals joining playfully together. The lang-led “1000 Miles Away” is reflective yet luminous in its expressive sadness. This subtle and random trading off of lead vocals is precisely why this project works so well. In fact, the lyrics—like all solid songwriting—offer each woman the opportunity of interpretation, and in a live setting, the potential of mixing things up vocally seems alluringly possible.
There is much left to admire, including the especially haunting Case-led “Down I-5,” lang’s smoldering “Why Do We Fight” and the three voices harmonizing for the beginnings of both the pleasant “Supermoon” and the folky “I Want To Be Here.” Veirs’ lovely voice leads the closer, “Georgia Stars,” with Case and lang mixing perfectly into its singalong beauty.
For more information on the death metal trio of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs, visit caselangveirs.com. (Red Butte, 07.08) –Dean O Hillis