It soothes while blowing you away.
Chris Jones 2009
Much could be read into the fact that on the cover of Middle Cyclone alt country leading light, Neko Case, has herself portrayed as a sword wielding valkyrie on the hood of a Ford Mercury. Also, on the first track, This Tornado Loves You, she takes the role of a twister that wants to, ''carve your name across three counties''. But the truth is that Middle Cyclone is a disarmingly simple collection of country pop that should finally win her broad approval.
When we say 'pop' keep in mind that this is still an album recorded in a Vermont barn filled with eight pianos and ending with a 30-minute field recording of the surrounding countryside. Yet most of the songs do tread more approachable ground than her last album, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood. People Got A Lotta Nerve, with its killer whale metaphors, sounds not unlike the best work of Kirsty MacColl, a woman who also blended country and pop with barbed effect.
Case is now adept at expressing yearning in all its forms from bestial (''I'm an animal, you're an animal too... pick up that stone, drink from that lake'' - I'm An Animal) to the metaphorical. If her delivery sometimes falls short of the real legends of country it's more than compensated for by her prowess with words. These are songs that have a light touch but a dark heart. The shifting time signatures of the album's best track, Polar Nettles, contain lines such as ''She is the centrifuge that throws the spires from the sun/The Sistine Chapel painted with a Gatling gun''.
The Lynchian dark twang that was present on albums like Blacklisted returns on Prison Girls but is derailed by the tenderly sung refrain ''I love your long shadows and your gunpowder eyes''. And she knows how to pick a good cover version. Her version of Sparks' Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth fits the album's theme of nature as a mercurial, fickle force perfectly, while Nilsson's Don't Forget Me benefits from her 'piano' orchestra' approach.
Middle Cyclone also joins all the dots that connect both old and new variants on country music that refuses to toe Nashville's traditionalist line. Joining her are not only her own new Pornographers and M.Ward but Calexico, Giant Sand, and even Garth Hudson from the Band. In the end Middle Cyclone is a perfect album title. It soothes while blowing you away.