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Neko Case comes alive as "The Tigers Have Spoken"

By Brian Baker, January 2005

To say that Neko Case maintains a busy schedule is an understatement on a par with calling Jimi Hendrix a serviceable guitarist. Case's burgeoning and much lauded alt.-country solo career keeps her in the studio and on the road. Her membership in the Corn Sisters is an interesting old time music diversion, and her involvement in the pop majesty of Carl Newman's New Pornographers is yet another stellar entry on an already impressive resume.

Case's unnervingly packed schedule may well have been the determining factor that inspired her decision to create her newest album, "The Tigers Have Spoken," from the stage rather than the studio.

It was an idea born of logic, but not necessarily supported by the reality of the situation.

"I thought it was going to be the easy and fast way to make a record...no way," says Case from Tucson, Az., where she's working on her next studio album. "Making a live record is incredibly difficult and very expensive. It's way harder to make a live album than a studio album. You've got to have a giant recording truck outside with two-inch tape. There's a lot of pressure. The hours in the studio were less, but the hours in the studio mixing were not less. It was an ordeal, but it was a fun ordeal."

Case set up a series of shows in Chicago and Toronto last spring with the express purpose of recording them for an album. In Case's mind, it was both a respite from the rigors of the studio and the realization of a longstanding desire.

"I needed to take a break from making studio albums, and I'd always wanted to make a live album," says Case. "A lot of my favorite recordings, some of the older music I like, are live - and not that weird, doctored-up live, but the warts-and-all live."

Case enlisted musical assistance from her old friends Travis and Dallas Good and their rockabilly/country/surf outfit, The Sadies, along with a number of friends (steel pedal virtuoso Jon Rauhouse, Corn Sisters band mate Carolyn Mark, fellow alt.-country chanteuse Kelly Hogan and Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops), pressed "play" and hit the stage.

The fascinating result is "The Tigers Have Spoken," her fourth solo album and her debut for Epitaph imprint Anti.

"Tigers" is a unique blending of the concepts of a straight live album and an album of new material, comprised of a number of energetically arranged covers (among them, Loretta Lynn's "Rated X," Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Soulful Shade of Blue," Freakwater's "Hex" and the Shangri-Las' "The Train From Kansas City") and a quartet of Case's own compositions - two from her existing catalog and two new songs written with The Sadies.

Case's original intention was to decamp with The Sadies and write an entire album's worth of new songs for "The Tigers Have Spoken," but the band was in the midst of working up their own new album ("Favourite Colours" on Yep Roc), and the time required to collaborate never became available.

"Neither of our schedules would have permitted such a thing," says Case. "The good thing is that we spent two or three weeks rehearsing before we did the shows - and we worked really hard - and we have two other songs from that particular session. We just didn't think the live versions did them justice because they weren't really done yet, so we ended up recording them for the studio album."

In lieu of the writing collaboration, Case and The Sadies put their heads together to choose the eclectic range of cover songs they would perform for the album. The process was neither difficult nor time consuming.

"A few were things that we already loved," says Case. "The reason we did 'Rated X' is because it's a song we used to do together like eight years when we played together; it was like our little reunion show. And Dallas and I have always been into the Shangri-Las, so that made perfect sense. And I brought 'Soulful Shade of Blue' and played it for them and they were like, 'Yeah, that's great!' They always had veto power; I wasn't going to make them anything they didn't want to do because the record is also partly theirs. It's not just my record."

"I wanted them to feel comfortable and proud of what they were doing, so if there was some song that they didn't like or thought was goofy, we wouldn't have done it. But we didn't really end up in that situation. We picked the covers really fast, in the course of about a half an hour one afternoon."

"I had been thinking and working on it so hard for so long before I met up with them. I had many alternate plans and other songs. Like we had a Nick Lowe song which we didn't end up using, but we recorded it for a movie called 'Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar.' So some of things wound up going elsewhere. We played them all, we just didn't use them all."

Similarly, Case and The Sadies wound up playing considerably more of Case's originals than are represented on the disc. Although they played a full set of songs for the shows, "Tigers" ultimately clocks in at a brisk 34 minutes.

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