It’s been three years since Neko Case’s triumphant The Worse Things Get, three years since Laura Veirs’ Warp & Weft, and five since Canadian treasure and country stalwart k.d. lang’s Sing It Loud, so you might assume the collective hunger for all three to release new music augured the synergistic meeting of minds that birthed case/lang/veirs. In reality, lang drew them together years back, inspired by The Traveling Wilburys (of course), and they’ve been tending to their collaborative project for long enough that it can bear fruits with a depth of flavour rarely seen from supergroups.
Case, lang and Veirs fit together like a folksy Voltron, a colorful and gratuitously glee-giving colossus. There’s a thankful meshing of voices here – everyone is given time to take the stage, everyone’s style is present, and the songwriting recalls the peaks of all three so that the record is like looking out across a warm and inviting mountain range. There were apparently tensions during recording and agonizing debates over minutiae, though this doesn’t come across on record and there’s also no sense of an album produced by committee. When three strong, unmistakable voices come together, there’s always the possibility of getting something watered down, but instead each individual’s powers are amplified.
lang, for instance, is able to stay true to herself on Why Do We Fight, her trademark country heartache intensified by Case and Veirs’ sublime backing vocals. It’s a genuine, gut-wrenching moment and one of a few that proves that the group are no less willing to expose themselves here than in their solo efforts. Case, too, offers the exemplary Supermoon, a track in her typical dark country vein that tells of weary pioneers – “we never used to live this long” – with painted-on smiles. “Nature isn’t magic,” she notes, “it’s a mystery to us.” Case is no stranger to the sinister machinations of the natural world, and here those lyrical tendencies cut to the core of an album about place: geographically, temporally, in relation to each other.
Elsewhere on the record, interstate 5 – running through the US’s western coastal states up towards British Columbia – provides a shared expanse for the three songwriters, and standout Best Kept Secret sees Veirs extolling the virtues of a Silver Lake musician with their “heart in the right place.” With Song For Judee, Veirs again takes the lead on a moving tribute to Judee Sill, an influence the three clearly share. “You were just trying to put a hand to where we are,” she suggests, and it’s one of the most effective evocations of the Americana and folk that Case, lang, and Veirs trade in. It’s all classic country iconography, tales of lost creative types traversing the west in search of themselves and their place in the world. The ode to Sill is a major tell, referencing as it does her song The Kiss; case/lang/veirs is the story of the communion between three artists, each finding their way, trying to figure out how they can come together. Consider, too, the influence of The Traveling Wilburys – “I’m so tired of being lonely…handle me with care.” Another song asking another lover to go easy on the heartbreak, but it’s also the story of the supergroup: wanderers trusting each other with their work.
It’s to the credit of all involved that the album never becomes overwhelming or drowned in lashings of indulgent showmanship. Instead, it’s a warm display of three of North America’s best storytellers coming together to put on a show and bolster each other’s tales. Listeners new to any of them can read case/lang/veirs as a strong primer, an introduction to each contributor’s work that lives at the intersections where all of their paths meet. A varied and largely successful meeting of minds, this is peer-review done right, and the prospect of it influencing future solo outings from Case, lang and Veirs is golden.