NPR logo Exclusive First Listen: Neko Case

Exclusive First Listen: Neko Case

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Jason Creps

Neko Case.

Jason Creps

When Neko Case toured in support of 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, she claimed that she didn't like love songs, and that she was incapable of writing one. But on her sixth studio album, due out March 3, Case offers up what she calls "a bunch of love songs," which are heartbreakingly beautiful and, at times, comical.

Case possesses one of the most memorable and seductive voices in music. As with much of her previous solo work, the songs on Middle Cyclone are largely inspired by classic country and gospel, but there are unexpected moments in which she veers into more experimental territory with ambient textures and sound effects. The closing track on the album, for example, is a 31-minute field recording of spring peepers (frogs).

The love songs on Middle Cyclone are also unconventional: The opening track, "This Tornado Loves You," imagines what it would be like to have an affair with a funnel cloud.

"What would it be like to be pursued by a force of nature?" Case asks. "That's a frightening and exciting prospect. For me, the song is very literal."

Ultimately, Case says, the songs on Middle Cyclone are more about the universal need for love, regardless of what form it may take.

"What other people might call 'love songs,' I think of as homages," she says. "They can be to a person, a region, a feeling, even sad feelings."

In addition to 12 new tracks, Case also covers two songs on Middle Cyclone: "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" by Sparks, and "Don't Forget Me" by Harry Nilsson.

Middle Cyclone was produced by Case, with Darryl Neudorf, and recorded in Tucson, Brooklyn, Toronto and Vermont. It features Case, backed by her core band: guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and drummer Barry Mirochnick. She's also joined by a number of guests, including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer and members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, Calexico, The Sadies, Visqueen, The Lilys and Giant Sand.