Neko Case/k.d. lang/Laura Veirs
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Indie country/pop singer/songwriters Neko Case and Laura Veirs join with veteran k.d. lang for what could be considered this generation’s version of the Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris “Trio” collaboration (coincidentally due to be reissued soon). Although lang initiated the project through an e-mail, all had previously contributed to Viers’ 2013 Warp and Wait.
It’s a logical if somewhat unexpected meeting of the minds since the threesome could be considered poster women for shifting country music into edgier, less twangy territory, while still keeping the spirit that made Parton, Cash, Lynn, Orbison and others so integral to the genre. This collaboration works not just on a vocal level, as the women share lead and backing chores, but on a conceptual one as well since their occasionally offbeat Americana sensibilities also dovetail perfectly.
The opening “Atomic Number” finds the outfit at its most collaborative, seamlessly trading leads then joining for harmonies while making way for ghostly strings in an arrangement that’s exquisitely written and breathtakingly realized. Whether its lang’s slightly retro approach on her 60s slow dance inspired “Honey and Smoke,” Case’s swampy, typically torchy “Delirium” or Veirs’ folksy dreamscape with orchestral flourishes for “All the Greens of June,” this is a mesmerizing, wonderfully synergistic team, perfectly attuned to each other’s strengths, where no one artist steals the spotlight. You get the feeling they all know and appreciate the music of under-the-radar folk icon Judee Sill, the subject of the appropriately titled and melancholy “Song for Judee.”
The 14 original songs were specifically written for this album which makes the harmonies and concepts feel even more jointly owned. The bluesy swagger of k.d. lang has seldom sounded as rich and pure as on her “Why Do We Fight” and even when they go pop countrypolitan on “Best Kept Secret,” the disc’s most commercial moment, the radio-ready track sits well with the rest of this joint venture. Credit Veirs’ husband Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, many others) who, as producer, brings a clear, crisp, beautifully nuanced balance to the recording which was anchored in Portland, Oregon where he, Veirs and lang live.
Perhaps we should have expected nothing less than these immaculately performed and skillfully written and overall classy tracks with the impressive level of talent involved. Still, it’s impossible to overstate how marvelously moving and purely enjoyable the end result is, paving the way, we hope, for a follow-up.