CD Reviews for 05/05/06 – Neko Case, Calexico

Compact Capsules for 05/05/06
by Dan Ferguson

Neko Case
Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Anti Records 86777-2

To attempt to soak up all the nuances and nooks and crannies of Neko Case’s brand new album titled Fox Confessor Brings the Flood in a single sitting is darn near impossible. There is just too much going on here. Two things were clearly evident after this reviewer’s maiden listen to Fox Confessor. First off, Case’s approach to music making is anything but matter of fact. The second thing is she is so much more than just a great voice. But oh that voice, a stunning and potent instrument in its own right it is oft-times difficult to move beyond it. If you do, the rewards are plenty on Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. Her first full-length studio release since 2002’s beautiful Blacklisted (Bloodshot Records), the album finds Case joining forces with many of the usual suspects from her previous releases including instrumentalists The Sadies, Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico fame, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, singer Kelly Hogan who contributes striking harmonies throughout the album (at times she and Case sound almost like the second coming of the queen of overdubbing herself, the late Skeeter Davis), and Canadian comrades Brian Connelly (Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet) and Paul Rigby. Case also enlists several newcomers for this album including Dexter Romweber (Flat Duo Jets), Rachel Flotard (Visqueen), and the legendary Garth Hudson of The Band. Co-produced by Case along with Darryl Neudorf (Sarah McLachlan, New Pornographers), Fox Confessor from conception to release was some two years in the making. The songs, all written or co-written by Case, have a story-like quality to them. The arrangements and melodies, lush, textured affairs all, defy convention while at the same time still able to strike an alluring pop chord. It is that breaking with predictability when it comes to song structure and melody that is both the blessing and curse of Fox Confessor. Adventuresome types will relish in the dozen tracks comprising the album which succeeds on its originality and refreshing approach. For others, a little patience (a.k.a. repeated spins) can bring great rewards. (Anti Records, 2798 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026, or

Garden Ruin
Quarterstick Records QS97CD

With its latest release titled Garden Ruin, Tucson-based Calexico takes some significant steps away from the Southwestern stew of border-leaning sounds that have defined the group over the course of its numerous releases. At the same time, classify Garden Ruin as the band’s most mainstream leaning recording to date. A band which once upon a time opted more for sprawling instrumentals with a Mexican bent, the vocals of co-founder Joey Burns have become a more and more prominent feature in the overall sounds of Calexico as it has counted off its records. Whereas the instrumentation is as usual rich and varied, Garden Ruin presents a Calexico that straddles the indie pop line with wads of ear friendly melody buoying the arrangements. Produced by J.D. Foster along with Calexico front men Burns and John Convertino, Garden Ruin has the appearance of a band trying not to be pigeonholed and at the same time looking to spread its wings. On the whole, the expanded stance is a refresher of sorts and maybe just what Calexico needs to broaden its following. More so than previous releases, the songwriting of Convertino drives Garden Ruin which has pop rock appeal all over the 11 tracks comprising the album but not to the point of any sort of sell out. On the contrary, credit Foster whose Midas touch has done much the same for albums from Dwight Yoakam to Alejandro Escovedo to Marc Ribot to Richard Buckner to Nancy Sinatra. For long time fans first drawn in by the Mariachi injections of the past, fear not as Garden Ruin does not ditch the Southwestern motif entirely. While you do get a sprinkling of horns and Latin-tinged guitars and all, the soundscapes are simply baked up a bit differently with the end result the band’s most accessible release yet. (Quarterstick Records, P.O. Box 25342, Chicago, IL 60625, or or

Calexico appears at The Roxy in Boston on June 28. Jason Collett opens. The Roxy is located at 279 Tremont Street. Call 617-338-ROXY or check out

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)