Neko Case and the Desertion of Twang

This post is a riff off a conversation started by a review of “Middle Cyclone” by Juli Thanki over at my friends at the 9513.com

Neko Case’s new release “Middle Cyclone” dropped last Tuesday and I have been listening to it for over two weeks now. In that time I decided not to review it on this site. Though I consider Case’s “Blacklisted” and “Furnace Room Lullaby” to be two of the finest releases in the history of alt.country, I feel that “Middle Cyclone” follows Cases’ last release “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” in her movement away from alt.country (or country noir) and toward the type of indie-pop Case has pursued in her other band The New Pornographers.

“Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” was the biggest selling release from Case’s career and it looks like “Middle Cyclone” is poised to be even bigger. But when I listen to these releases all I can think about is how much I loved her earlier, twangier work and his that beutiful voice has jumped the fence and perusing a muse more in line with Tori Amos and . It’s not that “Middle Cyclone” is bad, on the contrary it’s quite good, it’s just not the kind of music that I started this blog to celebrate.

I felt the same way when REM shed their early Southern-Gothic-art-school weirdness and relased thier mega-selling big label debut “Green.” I feel this way any time I lesten to Wilco now and remember this was the guy that used to be in Uncle Tupelo. Jeff Tweedy is making more money now and getting more recognition then he ever did in his former band and his bandmate, Jay Farrar persues a sound closer to UTs with Son Volt and labors in near obscurity to anyone outside the alt.country fathful.

I’ll end this rambeling post by putting it out to the readers, do you want bands to stay true to a genre distinction and do you feel betrayed when they move away and pursue new sounds and, sometimes, greater success. Do we prefer them to stay “pure” and yet poorer? Do the genre’s brightest stars have to move away from country music to flex their muscles due to the rigidity of what constitutes the country genre?

need to pursue a larger market to be heard since Nashville has such a strong lock on the country music

7 thoughts on “Neko Case and the Desertion of Twang

  1. March 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    As a songwriter, I have to follow where the muse takes me, and not really concern myself with genre. It just so happens my writing ends up falling into the folk,alt country,roots category.

    So, I wouldn’t expect other artists to remain ‘pure’ if that is not what was coming out of them at that time. I suppose there is always the question of motive, if their last album had a certain sound and was a big seller, perhaps they are being pushed in a certain direction.

  2. March 6, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I wrote a really long comment that got deleted somehow. Don’t have the energy to re-type. So I’ll just answer your questions:

    I don’t feel betrayed by what artists do, because they don’t owe me anything.

    I don’t begrudge artists who want to make money and be popular. Country music and rock are not high art. They are pop music genres. Hank Williams and The Beatles wanted to sell lots of records.

    And, yes: country, rock and alt.country are all pretty much played out. What more can be done in the field of twangy music that wouldn’t be derivative of something that has come before. Sure, there are great songs that have not yet been written, but if an artist wants to break boundaries, he or she has to leave the narrow confines of alt.country behind.

    I don’t think it has much to do with Nashville. Neko never had a chance there. That’s why alt.country exists in the first place.

  3. Baron Lane
    March 6, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Tom: Point taken. Not being an artist and running a blog with an ear for a particular sound I guess I just feel wistful when a really good one leaves the little pond and heads to parts more populous and fickle.

    Paul: Good point on pop music. Some of my favorite music was the “pop” of its day. Hank did Jambalaya and the Beatles helped define psychedelic music after beginning with bubblegum pop. I don’t want to come off like Pete Seeger dogging Dylan for going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, but I do feel a tinge of sadness when the really good ones move on to another sound.

  4. Irondavyflint
    March 7, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    I always appreciate when an artist does something different whether I like it or not.
    I’d rather see them do something I don’t like than stagnate into recreating the same material over and over.

  5. Baron Lane
    March 8, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Irondavyflint” I’m all for different. The reason this blog exists is to celebrate the different. My issue is when a musician moves into a genre different from the one that they established their bone fides.

    I don’t want stagnation but I many musicians have done very interesting and great things within a given genre. This is why I get so peeves when someone like Jewel of Dariys Rucker moves into country after making a career in another field. It smacks of carpetbagging.

  6. March 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    amen. i toured over in europe a couple years ago and was stunned to see jay farrar using the same booking agent and playing the same venues as little obscure songwriter me from iowa city. i came up seeing uncle tupelo in college bars and it is odd to see wilco playing such bigger venues. a bit of a crap shoot i guess…

  7. May 1, 2009 at 6:20 am

    I think I’m kind of late to the party on this post, but oh well. I too, am a fan of Neko’s earlier, more twangy stuff (I could listen to The Virginian a thousand times in a row and never get tired of it). However, maybe it’s my blind love of all things Neko, but I think Middle Cyclone is a masterpiece. That being said, I totally understand why you declined to review it on this site. It is decidedly not a country album. Is Neko Case a country artist anymore? I don’t know. I’m not sure how she defines herself (I have a feeling that she dislikes labels. I know she hates the “alt.country” label), but I do know she lists country and gospel singers (Bessie Griffin, Loretta Lynn) as her primary influences. She covers country artists, and sometimes she breaks out the twang in concert. In your post, you seem somewhat mournful, that we’ve lost a great country singer or something. Maybe I’m not correct in that reading, but if I am, I respectfully disagree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.