It is Peter Case’s blessing that he makes everything look easy, and also his curse — his seeming ease can make it difficult to appreciate just how skilled a craftsman he is. Beeline is Case’s ninth solo album and third straight solid extra-base hit, a hot streak that includes 2000′s Flying Saucer Blues and 1998′s Full Service No Waiting.
In many ways, Beeline represents Case’s niftiest balancing act to date, adding touches of psychedelic ragtime and exotic raga drones to his steady rolling country blues. The spare arrangements hit a perfect balance between clattery rhythms and atmospheric sound effects, driven by Case’s ambling guitar strums. It all sounds as natural, inevitable and effortless as water running downhill.
The casual sonic vibe belies the heavy circumstances of these songs, which reportedly emerged from a difficult period involving death and divorce. The overall tone is fairly subdued, with nothing as upbeat as the Full Service No Waiting ode-to-family “Beautiful Grind”; then again, the world seems like a pretty somber place nowadays. Songs such as “I Hear Your Voice” and “Lost In The Sky” go beyond wistful to wounded. “Feel like I’m fallin’ and I’m wonderin’ why,” Case chants again and again on the latter song, sounding bewildered.
Yet Beeline is anything but a downer, although the stoicism is more implied than spelled out. You get it from the grain of Case’s voice, which conveys a strength and determination to keep on keepin’ on. Long may he ramble.