Where Neko Case’s earlier albums established her as a big-voiced belter who could overpower the listener with her pipes (to these ears a mixed blessing), her third release is a more subtly sophisticated stunner. It’s as if, having reached that fork in the road where k.d. lang split from Patsy Cline, Case decided to soar. Instead of the genre exercises that have marked her previous releases and side projects (New Pornographers, Corn Sisters), here she floats above the stylistic borderland where “Ghost Riders In The Sky” meets “Twin Peaks”.
While she previously wasn’t known as much of a writer, original material such as “Tightly” and the lullaby-like “I Wish I Was The Moon” shows a haiku-like precision that suggests mood music for elliptically unsettling moods. The title cut is a rodeo girl’s “Dazed And Confused”, while “Deep Red Bells” and “Lady Pilot” evoke a big-sky expansiveness. The bittersweet balladry of “Pretty Girls” offers a siren’s song of desire (“those who walk without sin are so hungry”), one that answers the prayer of “lead us not into temptation” with “Why not?”
Case shows her torchier side on a cover of “Look For Me (I’ll Be Around)”, a languid supper-club ballad recorded by Ketty Lester, and receives vocal support from kindred spirit Kelly Hogan on “Running Out Of Fools”, an Aretha Franklin favorite later revived by Elvis Costello. The sessions benefit from the atmospherics of Joey Burns, John Convertino and Howe Gelb from the Calexico/Giant Sand axis, while the guitar of Dallas Good and the steel of Jon Rauhouse provide more of the requisite twang. Though the results aren’t necessarily alt-country, they’d be just as hard to categorize as anything else.