Neko Case's latest album, 'Fox Confessor Brings The Flood', features lyrics so cryptic and aloof they make Beck sound like Girls Aloud. Thankfully, this earlier effort adopts a more straightforward approach and is all the more accessible and engaging because of it.
As anyone who's seen her 'live' will testify, Ms Case possesses a mighty pair of lungs: no studio trickery is needed to enhance her recorded vocals either.
The 12 concise songs on this album are country-influenced but not out-and-out-country. 'Twist The Knife' is the best known, due to it topping John Peel's Festive Fifty of 2000. Neko really uses her marvellous, swooping voice to maximum effect on this wrenching love song.
'Porchlight' is another highlight, chiefly due to the wonderful, twangy guitar of Brian Connelly - you can see why Peel was such a fan. The feisty words and frantic rhythm of 'Mood To Burn Bridges' speak of a woman you wouldn't want to cross. And 'Furnace Room Lullaby' is a spooky murder ballad Nick Cave would be proud of. The way that Neko elongates the word 'here' near the end is spine-tingling.
But Case can do tender too. Witness the warm, romantic 'No Need To Cry' which has soft, jazzy brushes on the drums or the wistful regret of 'We've Never Met'. 'Bought And Sold' is also superb, hinting at a hitherto unrevealed vulnerability.
Her later records have been too obtuse for my liking. 'Furnace Room Lullaby' though scorches with fierce intensity.