Neko Case

Like any self-respecting alt-country artist, Neko Case would probably love to leave alt-country behind -- along with the negative connotations the term's overuse has spawned -- but the well-deep voice that's earned her deserved comparisons to Patsy Cline has made it difficult for her to escape the tag. Case was covering Scott Walker as far back as her 1997 debut, and she's been the female foil of Canadian alt-rock supergroup the New Pornographers for nearly a decade. Her fifth solo album places her squarely in the genreless no-man's-land of the supremely confident artist; drawn in equal measure from '60s pop, soul and Nashville, it nonetheless manages to avoid both slickness and cliches. But Case's insistence that Fox Confessor is a collection of fables hints at its flaw: Steeped in the Southern Gothic arcana that took onetime touring partner and Anti- labelmate Nick Cave a long time to outgrow, Fox's Faulkner-esque poetry makes some numbers -- "Dirty Knife," in particular -- nearly inscrutable. Although Case's haunted voice fills in a lot of subtext, a more direct approach could have brought this flood to many more parched souls.

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