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Neko Case: Throwback Thursday 2009

Neko Case's Middle Cyclone album cover

Neko Case's Middle Cyclone album cover

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For FUV's Throwback Thursday 2009, morning host Corny O'Connell celebrates Neko Case's Middle Cyclone, her wild and windswept fifth album, which was released on March 3, 2009.

Anyone who knows (and admires) Neko Case might point to her 2009 album, Middle Cyclone, as their first immersion into her music. Listeners might have been exposed to the many different styles and roles she played, but it's Middle Cyclone that brought her the biggest audience of her career.

Case released her debut album, The Virginian, which was credited to Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, in 1997. Among the guest musicians on that album was A.C. Newman, who formed the New Pornographers with Case around that same time.

A Virginian herself — she was born in Alexandria — Case was in Vancouver, Canada, on a student visa, when she recorded her first album. The Virginian was split between alt-country originals and classic covers, drawn from artists like Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn.

The next Neko Case and Her Boyfriends' album, Furnace Room Lullaby, was made up entirely of original songs. This made for a more revealing look at who she was as a musician. She maintained the country twang, but slowed the pace and introduced touches of noir, lyrically and otherwise.

Concurrent with her own releases, Case continued to record and tour as a member of the New Pornographers, singing lead and backup, and co-writing songs. (She's still an active member of the band: The New Pornographer's next album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, is released on September 27.)

After two solo studio albums under her own name, Blacklisted and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Case released the highly-acclaimed Middle Cyclone, her commercially most popular release to date. It reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 Album chart and it got Case her first Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. She was booked on late night talk shows and, the summer after the album's March release, Case was invited to perform at the 50th Anniversary Newport Folk Festival alongside veterans like Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Arlo Guthrie.

In a shift from her previous albums, Case had a steady, full-time band by this time and they were able to woodshed the songs before going into the studio. Case also enlisted a variety of guest performers including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Los Lobos, Calexico, and members of New Pornographers. The title of Middle Cyclone comes from the imagery in the lyrics. “I was about five songs in and I realized four of the five songs had tornado references," Case explained in a promotional clip for ANTI-, her record label.

Images of the natural world have always been a staple of Case’s songs. She recorded the album in a large barn that welcomed subtle sounds of wind and birds into the mix, as on "Polar Nettles," which is punctuated by the brief chirp of robins.  All songs are original save two: covers of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” (which Case describes as a "sad song" with a couple of very funny lines) and Sparks' “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth."

The final track, “Marais La Nuit,” is a restful half hour of frogs peeping in a nearby swamp. The cover art portrays Case in a position of power, perched on the hood of her Mercury Cougar and brandishing a sword.

Somehow, it all ties together. Case's voice is at its most natural on Middle Cylcone: unaffected, clear and strong. It's an album that I find myself returning to over and over again, even ten years on.

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#FUVTBT: Throwback Thursday: 2009 (Spotify playlist compiled by WFUV airstaff on September 12, 2019)

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