Tucked away at the end of The Tigers Have Spoken, there’s a spoken introduction to the title track, wherein Neko Case sets forth a modest proposal: Tigers should be reintroduced to their natural environment…and the big cats should be fed children. “Tigers are noble and sleek. Children are loud and messy,” Case declares.
If a listener’s only exposure to Case was through her fine but somber recent recorded work, it may come as a shock to hear her cut up and rock it up. But anyone who has experienced one of her shows won’t be surprised by the irreverence. Onstage, she’s funny, loose and brash, and The Tigers Have Spoken captures that essence, providing perhaps the most well-rounded representation to date of Case’s talent.
The disc was recorded with a minimum of overdubs over seven nights, spread across Toronto venues the Matador and Lee’s Palace and Chicago bar Schubas. Case’s supporting cast includes the Sadies, the Pinetops, steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse, and singers Kelly Hogan and Carolyn Mark.
As previously evidenced on her studio albums, Case has few contemporary equals when it comes to giving voice to an aching heart (a trait best heard here on “Hex”, “Favorite” and her new original, the searching “If You Knew”). She’s also superb at excavating material from music history and repurposing it for her repertoire. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Soulful Shade Of Blue” seems perfectly natural alongside the Shangri-Las’ “Train From Kansas City” and Loretta Lynn’s ode to post-marital relations, “Rated X”. (Regrettably, Case opted not to include her show-stopping cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Running Out Of Fools”, but let’s not quibble.)
The album climaxes with a bonus cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” recorded at an unlikely venue — a panel discussion at a Toronto futurist conference, with the audience of eggheads serving as Case’s backing chorus. An odd inclusion, but somehow perfectly appropriate, hinting at future marvels Case may yet yield on her upcoming studio album, due next spring.