Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The word “troubadour” has been used so frequently to describe Peter Case’s post-Nerves/Plimsouls work, it’s almost a cliché. Still, according to the short quote attributed to the singer/songwriter in the accompanying press material, it’s a tag he isn’t adverse so. Certainly his appearance—shaggy long hair, gray speckled beard, shades—exemplifies the troubadour look. Musically Case’s evocative stories of the struggles of blue collar Americans along with a primarily acoustic delivery also place him squarely as a contemporary wandering minstrel. And if that wasn’t enough, he covers a track from fellow highway picker Bob Dylan in a wonderful version of “Long Time Gone,” this disc’s only non-original.
But Case’s considerable background in punk and electric pop injects his songs with a uniquely incisive quality. That, along with distinctive, dusky vocals makes even his more laid back ballads connect with a power and passion most others in his field don’t—or can’t– invoke. With over a dozen solo albums to his name, Case is a well-traveled veteran, a trait telegraphed in the highway that provides this disc with its name. Along for the ride is Ben Harper, another singer/songwriter who juggles genres, X’s drummer D.J. Bonebrake (in laid back mode) and bassist David Carpenter whose spotlight stealing stand-up lines are integral to the album’s overall tone.
Case has the plight of the incarcerated and America’s legal system on his mind. The opening “Pelican Bay” tells the tale of a prisoner’s life in solitary confinement in the titular prison. Similarly “All Dressed Up (For Trial)” details an inmate’s sad story of what seems to be an unfairly jailed man. Songs like the upbeat “If I Go Crazy,” another tale of a good man stuck in bad circumstances, sound like natural rockers stripped down for the strummy singer/songwriter mode Case has inhabited since his 1986 T-Bone Burnett produced debut. The melancholy “Waiting on a Plane” finds the song’s protagonist, perhaps a thief on the run, missing his lover in another tale centered around traveling.
Case’s relaxed lyrical delivery and music that feels natural and organic make his songs spring out and grab you, beckoning for another spin. Not surprisingly, it’s appropriate traveling music and perfect accompaniment when rolling down Highway 61, 62 or any other thoroughfare you choose.