- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2006

The music of Neko Case doesn’t sound terribly new. The alt-country chanteuse is more country than alternative on her new album, “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.” The band she brought to the 9:30 Club Sunday night, including double bass and banjo players, could have fit in easily at the Grand Ole Opry — where they once played.

With a voice like hers, though, what else can she do?

Miss Case is compared frequently to legendary country singer Patsy Cline. There was ample evidence Sunday evening that the comparison is apt. Miss Case has an incredibly rich, twangy voice. It was made for the country-folk-gospel-blues mix in which she specializes.

It’s big, too — sometimes too big. It was a bit overwhelming at times in the confines of the sold-out 9:30 Club. The best moments were when Miss Case was at her most restrained — as on the title track of her new album, based on a Ukrainian folk tale — making the audience work a bit to grasp all the emotion under the surface.

Listeners have to catch it fast. Miss Case favors short songs. Most of the tracks on “Fox Confessor” are shorter than three minutes, and some are shorter than 2. Her work could use some development, but it’s there to showcase her voice, and it does so estimably.

“We will attempt to rock you,” Miss Case joked at the beginning of her set. She didn’t quite succeed, but her warm voice was made for the languid songs she favors — and for torch songs. Miss Case’s version of “Look for Me (I’ll Be Around),” made famous by Sarah Vaughan, makes it clear she easily could have another career as a cabaret singer. Because Miss Case also sings with the Canadian power-pop band the New Pornographers, one is left wondering if there’s anything her voice can’t do.

Miss Case was born in Alexandria, but she grew up in the Pacific Northwest and started her career in Canada. It was there that she found her opening act, Martha Wainwright, who comes from a famous Canadian musical family. Her brother is singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, her father is folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, and her mother and aunt are folkies Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

That’s quite a pedigree. Though Miss Wainwright clearly was influenced by the folk music of her parents, she has a style all her own. There’s something of Kate Bush about her. The younger singer-songwriter has a similarly strong but sweet, slightly girlish, voice. Her music is much more down to earth, however.

She admirably held her own opening for the silky-voiced Miss Case. On “Don’t Forget,” a quiet song from her 2005 debut album, she poured out her soul despite rude patrons making noise in the back of the club. It was a surprise that Miss Wainwright, with her feathered blond hair and very earthy sexiness, didn’t win over every single member of the crowd.

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