The fifteen-track Middle Cyclone is Neko Case's first release since 2006's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, the best-reviewed and best-selling album of her career. Middle Cyclone was produced by Case with Darryl Neudorf and recorded in Tucson, Brooklyn, Toronto, and Vermont. It features Case backed by her core band - guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and drummer Barry Mirochnick - along with numerous guests including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer, and members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, Calexico, The Sadies, Visqueen, The Lilys, and Giant Sand, among others. In addition to twelve new songs written by Case, Middle Cyclone includes covers of 'Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth' by Sparks, and "Don't Forget Me" by Harry Nilsson.
It’s apt that this record opens with tense, trembling guitar tones: ominous beacons of the gale-force songs to come. Middle Cyclone finds Neko Case--she of the flaming hair and unforgettably tremendous voice--returning to the darkly romantic sound of 2006’s near-perfect Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, only this time the songs are even more fervid and more troubled. Take the title track, a sylphic, heartbreaking confession of love. Case has never had qualms about baring her soul; by now it’s actually a signature element of her charm and power as a performer. And whether she’s declaring herself a maneater (“People Got A Lotta Nerve”) or covering Harry Nilsson (the touchingly plaintive “Don’t Forget Me”), the results are always epic and visually loaded. “The Pharaohs,” for example, might be the best ancient Egyptian-themed love song ever written. Middle Cyclone’s biggest statement, though, is the sprawling, organ-driven “I’m An Animal,” in which Case doesn’t so much sing as brazenly, decisively intone, “I’m an animal / You’re an animal too.” Neko Case’s frequent employment of nature-based imagery--singing magpies, tornadoes, killer whales--only underscores the sweeping, organic quality of her music. --Erin Thompson