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Neko Case's music sounds like Tucson feels

What's your favorite Neko Case moment? Over the years, denizens of the Old Pueblo have had many occasions to enjoy the red-haired alt-country-and-more singer's powerhouse performances.

Maybe her increasingly popular gigs at Solar Culture Gallery during the turn of the century opened your ears to Case's transcendent talent. Or that concert with Calexico in December 2004 at the Temple of Music and Art could have been your induction into the cult of Case. How about that tour kickoff show at Club Congress last year?

Refined music lovers citywide also profess adoration for the Vancouver-based pop-rock band the New Pornographers, of which Case is a charter member. With that group, she delivered a show that killed back in October 2005 at the Rialto Theatre.

Case will be back at the Rialto soon--Tuesday, June 20, to be exact--for a concert under her name. She is on the road to promote her almost-universally praised fourth solo album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.

It's her first studio album in almost four years. In 2004, she followed three enthusiastically received full-length CDs and an EP for the Chicago-based alternative-country label Bloodshot Records with the wonderful live album The Tigers Have Spoken at her new home, ANTI- Records, where her labelmates are such esteemed acts as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Marianne Faithful.

In fact, it's a busy week for Case, who was scheduled to play on the Late Show With David Letterman June 14 and plays at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 15, before embarking on the tour that brings her here and will continue into July. She wasn't available for an interview.

Astute music fans who have spent more than 10 minutes in Tucson will know the 35-year-old chanteuse frequently spends time in these parts--to perform, record her brilliant music at the downtown WaveLab Studio and to soak up the atmosphere in general.

Although Case was born in Virginia, grew up in Washington state, spent time in Vancouver and Chicago, and cut her musical teeth in Pacific Northwest punk bands, to this native Tucsonan's ears, her music sounds like Tucson feels.

There's little question that Case is a favorite with locals--well, most locals--to such a degree that at a recent town hall meeting for KXCI FM 91.3, one clueless audience member noted with exasperation that the community radio station maybe plays a little too much of Case's music and not enough of his favorite. Whatever.

In addition to Letterman this week, Case was on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in March. And, of course, other TV and radio outlets love her. She was recently featured on KCRW in Los Angeles; she's been on NPR several times; and back in April she appeared on A&E program Breakfast With the Arts.

Less than a month ago, Case returned from a European tour during which she played in 10 countries in two weeks.

She can tell a killer story, especially that one about watching a giraffe actually scalp a man (you can listen to it on her Web site, www.nekocase.com). But her most sophisticated skills still reside in the realm of singing and songwriting.

And Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is further proof of her complex artistry--12 amazing tracks that not only serve as an important career signpost, but redefine her sound, reaching beyond the limits of alt-country.

Recorded at WaveLab and produced by Case and Darryl Neudorf, the album makes effective use of local musicians such as Joey Burns and John Convertino from Calexico, and Howe Gelb from Giant Sand, as well as a lineup that includes Case's frequent backing group, The Sadies; steel guitarist extraordinaire Jon Rauhouse; Rachel Flotard of Visqueen; and Dexter Romweber of the legendary Flat Duo Jets. The sweet-voiced crooner Kelly Hogan adds luminous background vocals and harmonies, and The Band's Garth Hudson enlivens most songs with masterly piano and organ playing.

The arrangements explore the styles of Stephen Foster, Ennio Morricone, The Byrds, French chanson, art song, gospel, old-timey folk and Philip Glass.

Because her lyrics read like impressionistic poetry, Case's songwriting recalls at times the work of challenging songwriters such as Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, employing images from mythology, religion and fable, not to mention extraordinary perspectives on ordinary lives, to illustrate longing, regret, beauty, sadness and hope.

Personally, I can't wait to see what she does with her new songs in concert. Who knows? It might turn out to be your favorite Neko Case moment.

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