Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs case/lang/veirs

[ANTI-; 2016]

Styles: summer hikes, highway drives, slow burns
Others: Robin Pecknold, Rilo Kiley, Nick Drake, Patsy Cline

“A pail of milk, symbols of infinity, the city bus, shoulders burning in the window, honey in your ear, moths with their tattered wings, Hollywood cowboy stars, beloved books strewn around.”

The recent supergroup collaboration from celebrated singer-songwriters Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs is saturated with the scent of summer. Nearly every noun is a sip of lemonade, by careful design. Veirs described the group’s painstaking songwriting process on case/lang/veirs: “One word would get axed and someone would be hurt.” The collisions were worth it, it seems, because the result is an album full of vibrant, sensuous language.

“January cherries, blue fires, delirium kaleidoscoping in, greens of June, brass trapped in the glass, vines from the streets, diamonds, a rare stone, golden glow, supermoon.”

Poetry aside, none of these 14 songs are highlights of any of the three artists’ vast catalogs. The stories and the production alike are pure sunshine, which often passes into the saccharine. An exception is the muted “1000 Miles Away,” which channels Hejira-era Joni in an affecting way, from the understated winds down to the percussion. But the rhythms on even the smoothest of Joni’s records pop and explode, and these recordings lack that vitality. The band (Rob Burger and Tim Young on guitars, Sebastian Steinberg on bass, and Glenn Kotche on drums) is solid, but these tunes often wilt before they bloom. For all the sweetness, hooks run rare: “Best Kept Secret” packs the first real punch, but it’s already halfway into the set.

“A painted carousel, lions of the lamps, horses on the hill, cut grass on the air, pain of pain, turbines, wild strawberries, rivers running loud, a tent above the clouds, stars gone blue.”

Collaborations among giants are always a joy, and the energy here is worth witnessing if only for the blend of these powerful voices in one mix, their collectively penned poems tumbling out in rich three-part harmony. Last time I hit the road in summer, I was blaring Neko Case’s classic “South Tacoma Way.” On my next drive, I’ll be contributing a fourth part to “Down”: “My shoulder’s burning in the window/ I should roll it up I know/ I pass the signs that promise hell/ But they don’t know me at all.” A song for the season, syrup and all.

Links: Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs - ANTI-

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