Pancakes with a side of Hendrix

First up, I gotnothing againstJakob Dylan. He’s written some verydecent songs. Also, one cannot argue with genetics — man’s got a sweet voice that’s weathered smoothly over time, solid musical instincts, and not for nothing, he’s awful nice to look at. (see: “dyke, not blind”)

When I read thatT-Bone Burnett, Academy Award winner, definitely on the short list of greatest producer/songwriter/performer genius guys around, had signed on to produce a second album with Dylan, I thought it sounded like a cool idea but didn’t think much more about it. What got my attention was when I saw they wanted not onlyNeko Case but powerhouse sidekickKelly Hogan on 8 of the 10 tracks. That meant I’d most likely buy said album, Women & Country, or at least 8 tracks of it.

Then came the announcement that “Jakob Dylan and Three Legs, with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan,” would be all overSXSW, just down the road from me this week, including some of the free no-wristband-required events. I was tempted to go at first, even more when I found out that “Three Legs” was actually the rest of Case’s band, every one of them kickass players, especially Paul Rigby (on guitar below). Case’s last two albums have been in high rotation in the “fabric of my life” playlist this last year, but I have yet to see a live performance.

So, tempted, yes — my favorite ingredients were there — but frustratingly, not in theproportions I wanted:

To listen to Neko Case recorded is an
incredible experience, but to actually watch her sing is breathtaking.
While the audience (and sometimes the rest of the band) gasps in awe,
struggling to draw enough air to yell into a friend’s ear “can you
believe her voice”?!, Neko simply opens her mouth and lets loose an
auditory assault. In a good way. The English language needs a new verb
to describe the manner in which Neko produces sound. It is not
singing. It is some peculiar form of channeling, in which her vocal
chords become conduit for a blend of Linda Ronstadt’s, Patsy Cline’s and
Ozzy Osbourne’s voices, driven through a Marshall amp with all the
knobs turned to 10.

And as if that voice isn’t enough, add in “secret assassin” Kelly Hogan, described by Case as “the best singer I know.” Two enormous voices … used here as background, as accent. Splashed on like aftershave. And it’s gorgeous — in my headphones. Badass chef T-Bone Burnett serves up a mouthwateringappetizer. Case is the caviar, Hogan’s the crème
fraîche, we’ll call the band smoked salmon, and Jakob Dylan is the
pancake.

I love musical collaborations, have nothing against cross-marketing, but when it comes to the billing for alive performance, I have a different expectation of that word “with,” so my expectations and I stayed home. Many of those who did stand in line for a few hours to see Jakob Dylanwith Neko Case ended up underwhelmed. Even middle-of-the-roadEntertainment Weekly found Case “sadly underused,” describing the shows as “disappointingly snoozy.” On Twitter, of the many “WTF?” livetweets I saw, this was my favorite:

“Seeing Neko Case sing backup vocals for Jakob Dylan is
like watching Jimi Hendricks play rhythm guitar for Ringo Starr.”

Jakob Dylan is a nice enough pancake, and talented. I wish him the best, I just don’t find him the most interesting thing on the plate:

You can download Dylan’s new singleNothing But the Whole Wide World for freehere. And, btw, the New Pornographers just announcedtour dates for their about-to-be released albumTogether.

11 thoughts on “Pancakes with a side of Hendrix

  1. Dan says:

    Hi Virgo Tex. I listened to “Maneater” last year and was only blown away by the amount of blog hype surrounding it. It really didn’t do anything for me. It gave me no interest whatsoever in buyingMiddle Cyclone. Last year Tboggmade the point that she’s a great interpretive artist but not an especially gifted original one. And if she’s as good as you say live, then even an album full of well selected covers might not do her justice, so fair enough. But her original stuff may be a wee bit overrated. (I’ll be checking out her cover of “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” sometime this year. Maybe I’ll come around a little after hearing that.)

  2. liprap says:

    The one that gave me the interest in getting Middle Cyclone was “This Tornado Loves You”, which I heard in an interview and performance of Neko’s on WFUV in NYC. “Maneater” is the weakest one on the album, actually. Don;t judge it by that, Dan.
    Guess I’m just lucky. 😎

  3. liprap says:

    This one would have the links:
    http://wfuv.streamguys.us/cgi-bin/search_wfuv.cgi
    WFUV is one of the things I miss about NYC.

  4. Interrobang says:

    Neko Case must not get out much. Who’s Kelly Hogan, compared to, say, real vocalists like Yma Sumac or Ofra Haza?

  5. virgotex says:

    I’d argue with you too Dan. In the 15 years she’s been recording, she’s grown into a first rate songwriter. I had friends who were pressing her very early “country noir” period stuff on me and it didn’t grab me much then. Though I’ve gone back and appreciate it more now, to my “jaded” ears it sounded at that time a lot like what any number of folks were doing around me in Austin. But Middle Cyclone and to an even greater extent, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,(and lesser extent, Blacklisted) have some amazing songs on them, and on the best ones, she’s moved past traditional verse chorus verse structure. Star Witness, Deep Red Bells, Dirty Knife, Prison Girls are all just like these tiny mindblowing little movies that create a world in 2 minutes and then stay in your brain all day.
    Check out her live album The Tigers Have Spoken- it’s mostly covers, performed with the Sadies, and it’s a lot of fun too.
    Interrobang,you know Sumac and Haza are both deceased, right? So, I’ma give Neko a pass for not picking them. And not for nothing, Mavis Staples has Hogan on backup on her upcoming new album. Not too shabby of an invite, would you say?

  6. virgotex says:

    Liprap, wFUV, and wFMU from Hoboken, were the soundtrack for the 10 years I was in NY, and I still stream them both. There’s a great Case Songwriters Series concert and interview on NPR’s Live Concerts from All Songs Considered – the one recorded in Disney Hall.

  7. serge says:

    I’ve been blessed to see Ms Case twice on her last tour, each in a hall with fabulous acoustics.
    The band is virtually perfect. Her voice, live, is the most extraordinary sound I’ve heard in forty years of going to shows.
    The between-songs banter between her and Kelly Hogan is worth the price of admission on its own. The two of them are hilarious. One senses at once that the last person to take Neko Case too seriously is Neko Case.

  8. virgotex says:

    Serge:

    also, “the crazy ass giraffe story” (kind of mean spirited but also funny as hell)
    http://www.nekocase.com/music/mp3/misc/giraffe_story.mp3

  9. Robert M. says:

    I picked up “Middle Cyclone” based on a funny, self-aware interview she did on NPR’s “Wait, Wait…” of all things, and have since started delving into her older stuff. At this point, I’d pretty much line up to hear her sing nursery rhymes.

  10. serge says:

    @virgotex…exactement.

  11. virgotex says:

    Serge-there’s no caption but pretty sure the other person on the giraffe story is Rachel Flotard (of Visqueen), not Hogan.

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