It’s been a long, strange and compelling trip for PETER CASE from fresh-faced power popster with The Nerves and The Plimsouls though to the grizzled, road-weary troubadour he is today. Down the last three decades (and more) he’s bequeathed a stack of excellent, if often unsung records and consistently proved he’s a man of integrity whose music never lets you down.
Cue his new outing ‘The Case Files’. Not a new studio album per se, but a self-proclaimed collection of “demos, out-takes, one live shot and other rarities” which neatly sums up this 12-track gathering of tunes left on the shelf, in the garage or stuffed down the back of the sofa.
However, while our hero’s typically self-deprecatory sleeve notes rather downplay the importance of these ‘lost’ tracks, it comes as no surprise that even the crumbs from Case’s table are tastier than the majority of singer/ songwriters’ well-produced main courses.
The first half especially is dynamite. Recorded in Mike Meltzer’s Van Nuys garage studio, ‘(Give Me) One More Mile’s gritty, Roots-y sound sets the tone, with Case taking a similar tough and tender tilt at Alejando Escovedo’s ‘The End’ and hollerin’ his way through a cranky live power trio take of Sleepy John Estes’ ‘Milk Cow Blues’.
Case’s former first mate Eddie Munoz rolls up to add lead guitar to the chiming Plimsouls-like majesty of ‘Anything (Closing Credits)’, while the wasted beauty of Case’s take of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Good Times Bad Times’ comfortably outshines the original. Pick of the crop, though, is surely ‘Let’s Turn This Thing Around’. Featuring Stan Ridgway on keyboards, snake charmer flutes and samples, it’s a surprisingly funky – and impassioned - state of the nation address (“how many thousands more will die before they suck this country dry?”) which can’t help resonating the day after Osama Bin Laden is pronounced dead around the globe.
The album’s second half is rather more low-key and less seismic, but it’s still hugely engaging. ‘Trusted Friend’ and ‘Steel Strings #1’ (featuring T-Bone Burnett) are downbeat acoustic confessionals, while Case’s barrelhouse piano on the swaggering take of Dylan’s ‘Black Crow Blues’ is enormously entertaining. ‘Kokomo Prayer Vigil’ – a talking blues of sorts akin to Townes Van Zandt set to a guitar figure very similar to ‘Blackwater Side’ – is the record’s oddest moment, but there’s no denying the relevance of the stinging ‘Ballad of the Minimum Wage’ (“40 hours at $5.15 ain’t enough to pay the bills....hope to God you don’t get ill”) whichever side of the Atlantic you may reside. The closing ‘Round Trip Stranger Blues’ isn’t actually a blues, but its’ firewater-gluggin’ Creedence Clearwater update sounds like the perfect way to go regardless.
‘The Case Files’, then, is the sound of Peter Case pulling back the doors of his creaking back catalogue only to be buried under a minor avalanche of semi-forgotten, rough-hewn gems. It may not be the obvious point of entry for the uninitiated, but you shouldn’t let that put you off. If you like your troubadours on the outspoken, intelligent and melodic side, you’ll be thrilled by these ornery delights.
Peter Case on MySpace
Alive! Records online