I’ve said before that supergroups don’t always work out. At their worst, they’re less than the sum of their parts: a vessel for leftovers, cast-offs, and b-sides. Other times, even when the album succeeds, it nevertheless leaves you pining for the respective members’ primary bands or solo fare.
But when Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs got together, they somehow managed to sidestep these pitfalls. In the process, they created an extraordinarily lovely album that is both multi-dimensional and cohesive. It’s beautiful without being shallow. All three members appear confident and in top form, with songwriting credits and lead vocals split evenly. Underneath their formidable voices hums a skilled band of session musicians, including Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, who handle the album’s subtly intricate arrangements with ease.
Some of the credit also has to go to co-producer Tucker Martine, who has had a hand in many great-sounding albums over the past few years (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Sufjan Stevens). With Martine’s production, every element sounds lush and perfectly placed. “Polish, not sheen” seems to be his modus operandi. He also manages to incorporate orchestral elements without lapsing into cliche.
Neko Case is pretty much my favourite vocalist, so I naturally gravitate to the songs on which she sings lead (her back-half trio of “Supermoon,” “Behind the Armory,” and “Down I-5” is a real treat), but that’s not to say the others are a disappointment in any way. Going into the album, I worried that Veirs’s vocals might be outshone by two relative powerhouses, but she really holds her own, and I love the up-tempo tunes she contributes. “Best Kept Secret” kicks off Side B with a blast of sunshine, while “Georgia Stars” brings it to a fitting, reflective close.
And then there are the harmonies. Oh, the harmonies. Andy Shauf, who opened for case/lang/veirs on tour, noted in an interview that k.d. lang has such perfect pitch that she can tell the sound engineers which frequencies need to be removed from her stage monitors. lang’s high point on the album comes on “Blue Fires,” a lilting, questioning ballad shot through with imagery of the natural world. Living in Canada, I’ve heard k.d. lang on the radio for as long as I can remember, but this album served as a re-introduction of sorts.
All this talent packed into one package made it tough to miss case/lang/veirs perform in Winnipeg by one day this summer, as I was returning from a road trip. Going forward, I’m interested in hearing more of Veirs’ back catalog, as I know virtually nothing about her music. If, like me, you’re a massive fan of Neko Case, there is an upcoming release from The New Pornographers to look forward to in April. Until then, give case/lang/veirs a few spins.