Like a photograph of a movie star's good side, Neko Case's last studio album, Blacklisted (2002), was a perfect but incomplete picture of her outsize talent. The noirish production on the album spotlighted her dynamic, expressive vocals and emphasized an atmosphere of unease, but it also gave short shrift to the earthy humor and unbridled energy that make her concerts such a blast. Her new album, The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti-), was recorded live in Chicago and Toronto, and it thankfully leaves some blemishes unretouched. Backed by an alt-country who's who (including vocalists Carolyn Mark and Kelly Hogan, pedal steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse, and the Sadies), Case conjures up some cool and spooky moments a la Blacklisted, but just as often the songs are bracing and exultant; the band rocks out on the Nervous Eaters' "Loretta" like they think they're the Velvet Underground and turns the gospel tune "This Little Light" into a jubilant rave-up.
The Sadies are an exceedingly versatile band, which has enabled the Toronto quartet to successfully back Case, Chicago-via-Wales punker Jon Langford, and R & B lech Andre Williams; the downside is they've often sounded schizophrenic on their own albums. For their sixth CD, Favourite Colours (Yep Roc), they stick with Byrds tropes--the 12-string jangle and lush harmonies of their singles, the countrified psychedelia of The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and the fleet picking Clarence White contributed during their final years--add some spaghetti-western sound track moves, and come up with a beguiling and, finally, cohesive record. Low Skies open; the Sadies play second and then back Case. Fri 1/14, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $18.50, 18+.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.