Steve Wilson. On music.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thus Continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown! (with No. 20)

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 20, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. In the event one of my top 25 selections isn't something I've reviewed previously I'll dash off a new review.

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
23. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (ATO)
22. Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
21. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop) 
20. Peter Case - Wig! (Yep Roc)

“Blues-rockin’ session from a (still) underrated talent"
Peter Case has been there and done that. His deep catalog has constructed a sturdy cult audience and inspired recognition among his peers. In the Plimsouls he rocked hard and flirted with pop stardom. As a soloist he’s gravitated to folk and blues derived material that puts him in the company of Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. 

Of course, unless you’re a superstar, being a musician typically means that you live on the margins, often without such amenities as health insurance. After heart surgery last year many of his musical friends and fans came to his aid. Wig, his first album since the illness, is the sound of a relieved man intent on blowing out the cobs. Recent Case releases, while still chock-a-block with fine tunes and exquisite performances, found the artist in a bit of an Americana rut. For someone who once powered the Plimsouls through songs like “A Million Miles Away” it was easy for the more rock inclined fan to ask: where’s the energy, Pete?

Well, here it is. The songs on Wig are all built on blues idioms. Don’t look for the melodic nuance that went into material like “Entella Hotel” or “Moves Me Deeply.” But Wig gives Case the chance to blast through some joint rockin’ originals (plus a Leadbelly cover), all of them approached with a raw urgency somewhere between Dylan’s blues-based material and R.L. Burnside. 

Case is ably supported on drum by X’s D.J. Bonebrake and Ron Franklin on lead and slide guitar. Bonebrake has always played with ferocity that combines swing and precision, both of which he brings in spades to Wig. Ron Franklin, whose excellent, self-titled, second album sounded like Buddy Holly with the Memphis blues again, is perfectly in tune with this repertoire.

Case is in fine voice. He’s one of the few rock singers to reference both John Lennon’s loving and lacerating sides and do so with distinction. You can hear it on “Ain’t Got No Dough,” which amusingly, affectionately and appropriately borrows the piano part from Barrett Strong’s “Money” (famously covered by the Beatles).“New Old Blue Car” re-energizes a fine track from Case’s very first solo recording. 

“The Words in Red” features some “You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” twelve-string, reconciling Byrds/Searchers jangle with a gospel-folk theme. “House Rent Party” tackles the traditional poor man’s blues theme acoustically while its electric cousin “House Rent Jump” rocks hard, both cuts built on John Lee Hooker’s “House Rent Boogie” theme.

Played for pleasure, deeply felt, and drawn from experience, Wig is the sound of a veteran having a gas of a time with two musical brothers. When the blues is rocked this hard it never gets old. Peter Case makes a great case for everything old being new again on Wig.

Reverberating: 8.4 (original), upgraded to 8.7