In 1989, singer-songwriter Peter Case titled his second solo disc The Man With the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar--an apt, if unwieldy, characterization of the sound he's pursued since disbanding the Plimsouls over 15 years ago. On this year's Flying Saucer Blues (Vanguard) his rootsy picking draws from traditional blues, rockabilly, and acoustic pop, among other influences, and his vivid lyrics demonstrate a taste for wry wordplay and self-deprecating humor. Though the record isn't convincing throughout--a lyric like "I'm stuck in this primordial ooze / With a case of flying saucer blues" seems somehow both overwrought and glib, and on the faux blues "Cool Drink o' Water" his vocals have the pinched, stuffy sound of an old 78, though the band mix is slick and contemporary--it's probably the most coherent effort of Case's career. In his guitar playing he avoids hot licks and wasted gestures, creating a solid style that perfectly complements his lucid, straightforward storytelling. "Blue Distance," with its sweet pedal steel, gently swaying waltz cadence, and lyrics about passing seasons and gathering storms, sounds like the kind of thing John Denver might have written if he'd spent a little more time actually walking the country roads he sang about--and the way Case delivers "Black Dirt & Clay," you can almost smell the wet earth under his feet. "Two Heroes," a slapstick tale of bumbling, Felliniesque losers, pumps along like an old-timey jug-band tune, seasoned by Case's ragged harmonica squalls and sandpapery, slightly nasal vocals. He sometimes dilutes his darker lyrics with irony--"Coulda Shoulda Woulda" is the story of a man who's loused up his life through ignorance and laziness, but Case delivers it as a rousing country rocker, as though his protagonist were an outlaw hero. By contrast, the gentle love ballad "Cold Trail Blues" evokes longing and loss with lyrics as carefully crafted as its guitar lines: instead of pouring out his heart in verse after verse, he conveys depth of feeling by saying barely enough. Thursday, November 16, 8:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Greg Allen.