Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Corny porn

Posted By on Wed, Feb 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM

“The first disaster I heard was on radio,” country crooner Terry Allen once said of a tornado that ripped through his Texas Panhandle community when he was a boy. He wasn’t speaking metaphorically — “They were pleading for blankets and canned goods” over the airwaves — although he easily could’ve been describing the torch ’n’ twang tunings of the dial itself. As those who grew up on C&W can attest, such stations have long exposed young music lovers to their first tragedies. From Johnny’s guns to Patsy’s guys, country music has always been a training ground for newcomers to life’s deaths and disappointments.

Like Allen, Neko Case is no stranger to turmoil. On last year’s stunning Furnace Room Lullaby, Case — who shares a birthday and birthplace with Patsy — wrote herself into country’s heart-heavy history with her sad and soulful songs of lost faith and devotion. And with the Corn Sisters’ The Other Women, she proves her blues weren’t a fluke: The debut by her now-and-again side project with Carolyn Mark is as poignant and painful as anything she’s released yet. Sounding like it was recorded live in 1938 and not ’98, the album’s sparse barnyard songs include covers of Loretta and Lucinda, but the originals are most compelling. You’d be hard-pressed to find a story more tragically beautiful than “Too Many Pills,” a tale of a drunken bedroom brawl that belongs in every juke joint from here to Muskogee.

Case also turns up in the New Pornographers, Vancouver’s five-guy, one-gal arena-worthy supergroup with members of Zumpano, the Evaporators and others. Unlike her previous work, this band’s debut is pure power pop à la the Cars’ “Just What I Needed”: With all the careening choruses and Cheap Trick-ripped riffs, Mass Romantic’s dozen would-be hits are ready-made for radio. And while the men sing lead on most tracks, the highlights come when Case steps to the mic and trades her twang for a straightforward rock delivery (on the title track and on”Letter From an Occupant”), proving that no matter how she sings, her voice can’t do anything but bring down the house.

In other words, one day some kid is gonna turn on the radio and hear Case tearing through the airwaves like a tornado outta Texas. And like everyone who cut their teeth on country’s tragic tales, the whole world is gonna come crashing down.

The New Pornographers play Feb. 16 at Magic Stick.

E-mail Jimmy Draper at letters@metrotimes.com.

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