Neko Case – The Tigers Have Spoken

Neko Case
The Tigers Have Spoken

Neko Case fans have been waiting quite awhile for a follow-up to 2002’s Blacklisted and it looks as though the pining will continue until early this year before a new studio album is released. However, Ms. Case recently released a live album called The Tigers Have Spoken to help kill the time. If you aren’t already familiar with Neko Case, she is one of those musicians whose big draw is her voice. Although she writes really good songs and has rocked the alt-country scene for quite a few years now, it’s still her vocals that really stand out in the crowd. Neko has one of those classically beautiful voices that sounds just as good belting out a pop tune as it does singing the blues. Anyone who appreciates a great vocalist will be immediately drawn to Neko.

A live recording is a bit of a disappointment when you are hoping for a new full-length, especially when the album only contains two new tracks to tide you over. However, Neko Case hasn’t created a simple live disc featuring fan favorites from her back catalog. The Tigers Have Spoken takes a different approach from the norm and focuses on cover songs. Other than the two new tracks, there are only two others that have made an appearance elsewhere in her discography.

The Tigers Have Spoken was recorded at three different shows in Chicago and Toronto during one week. The disc features the Canadian band the Sadies, which Neko has been fronting on tour as of late. Having a full backing band adds a nice complement to Neko’s vocals and lends itself to the different types of cover songs well. The two new tracks here, “The Tigers Have Spoken” and “If You Only Knew,” were written by Neko and the Sadies, and it is clear this group effort is a good fit. While these two songs stay within the alt-country realm fans have come to know Case for, the addition of other musicians creates a much more complex result than Neko’s normal girl-with-guitar strummings.

This release does rely heavily on cover songs though, and despite being recorded live, you can tell they were carefully chosen pieces. Each song not only fits Neko’s voice impeccably but works well with a full band. Two traditionals, “This Little Light” and “Wayfaring Stranger,” give the group plenty of room to flex their expertise arranging a song and testing out different styles. A few of the songs are more obscure and are probably first-time listens for many fans, such as Freakwater’s “Hex,” the Nervous Eaters’ “Loretta,” and Shangri-La’s “Train from Kansas City.”

There are two absolute highlights on The Tigers Have Spoken that really stand out from the other tracks: Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Soulful Shade of Blue” and Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X.” I actually find the Sainte-Marie cover preferable to the original as it seems as though it were written just for Neko Case to sing. Both of these songs are superb examples of an artist choosing to cover a song that fits their musical sensibilities.

Although two years is a long time to wait between albums, The Tigers Have Spoken is about as good as a live album can get. I really enjoyed the fact that Neko Case choose songs not already found on her previous releases, and her picks for covers are solid enough to satisfy most fans until her next studio effort. Even though there is just over 30 minutes of music here, the album is well worth checking out – if only to get a fix on Neko’s beautiful voice.