Peter Case – The Case Files (2011)

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Photo: Greg Allen

The cleverly titled The Case Files is the ol’ “odd and ends” collection for this under-noticed troubadour Peter Case. First making his mark with The Nerves in the 70s and The Plimsouls in the early 1980s (remember “Hanging On The Telephone” or “A Million Miles Away”?), Case has now had a nearly three-decade solo career that gave him the freedom to move around artistically from the power pop, punk and new wave confines of his old bands and indulge his roots rock, folk and blues muses as fully as he cares to. After a quarter century of critically-acclaimed, commercially-ignored albums, including one co-produced by T-Bone Burnett, and boasting guest artists like John Hiatt, Roger McGuinn and Ry Cooder, The Case Files is a comparatively modest collection of songs he found laying around, songs that, in Case’s words, “fell through the cracks.” Haphazardly thrown together, that smells like a recipe for disaster, but Files is far from that.

Through this set of a dozen ditties recorded from the mid-80s up through last year, Case’s sensitive, intelligent, thought-provoking, sometimes-witty but always direct lyrics is the glue the holds the album together. From simple acoustic guitar-only demos to full band live performances with members of The Plimsouls or Case’s latest creation, Wig, none of it ever feels incomplete. But maybe Case’s greatest strength is his natural ability to attach his voice to the lyrics so completely; it’s what elevates a pretty decent unadorned folk ditty like “Trusted Friend” into something especially deep. His gruff, raspy pipes combines the best elements of Dylan and a young Lennon.

Elsewhere, he veers from talking folk-blues (“Kokomo Prayer Meeting”,”Ballad Of The Minimum Wage”), a crunchy take on trad blues (“Milkcow Blues”), an uptempo folk-rock number (“(Give Me) One More Mile”), a raw acoustic blues reading of a Rolling Stones cover (“Good Times, Bad Times”), and a wonderfully catchy tune that would have killed as a single (“Anything (Closing Credits)”). The only misstep barely even worth mentioning are the unnecessary sound effects littering Case’s otherwise appealing call-to-action anthem “Let’s Turn This Thing Around.”

Outtakes and lost tracks can tell a lot about a long-established artist, like how good he sounds when he’s just ripping through an old tune or kicking around new ideas. The Case Files peels off the veneer from one of America’s most underrated singer-songwriters alive to expose Peter Case to be perhaps even better than what sympathetic critics give him credit for.

The Case files came out on May 10, from Alive Naturalsound Records.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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