The studio work by rootsy singer-songwriters who are lucky enough to have long recording careers tends to grow more urbane as time goes on. That's certainly true of Middle Cyclone, the latest offering by Neko Case, who'll share the Chautauqua spotlight with Joey Burns and John Convertino. "This Tornado Loves You," for example, sports a dense, string-laden arrangement that's a world apart from the comparative rawness of The Virginian, her 1997 debut. But if she's less likely to cut loose than she once was, her growing sophistication as a vocalist and musician offers plenty of compensation. Her cover of the Harry Nilsson chestnut "Don't Forget Me" is distinctively baroque, and originals like "Red Tide" display a sense of melodic confidence that's enhanced immeasurably by guest stars such as M. Ward and the Band's Garth Hudson. The alterna-country crowd will likely lament Case's transition to some degree — but plenty of them will eventually be swept up by Cyclone anyhow.
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