Album Review

Various Artists - A Case For Case: A Tribute To The Songs Of Peter Case

Various Artists - A Case For Case: A Tribute To The Songs Of Peter Case

It's not enough that they get to sing the songs; they also get to write all the good lines in the CD booklet. According to Maura O'Connell, Peter Case writes "about us, for us and to us." Will Kimbrough goes the anatomical route to roll out Case's gifts: "a storyteller's eye, a melodist's ear, a folk singer's soul, and a rock 'n' roll heart." Bob Neuwirth says simply, "Peter Case is a real songwriter." Yep, they all nailed it. There's a breadth to the Buffalo, New York, native's music that comes from power-popping with the Nerves, guiding the R&B-tinged guitar rock of the Plimsouls, and crafting a modern troubadour style that taps into the past while never feeling stale. There's a wisdom that comes from doing a lot of living in the 35 years he's spent in the music biz (you can put up those kinds of career numbers when you start playing in clubs at 14), and a moral compass that keeps him to the course. There's an undeniable everyman quality, although not every man would think to start a song with the line, "I was standing on the corner of Walk and Don't Walk," or bless another with the sentiment, "As we make our way toward our destinations, fortunes are still made with flesh and blood/Progress and love got nothin' in common, Jesus healed a blind man's eyes with mud." And the words he put to Lightin' Hopkins' music on "Icewater" can even get me to like blues for three minutes at a time. Together, those elements create the kind of almost tangible appeal that's brought together 46 artists to cover Case's songs across this three-disc set to benefit Hungry For Music, a Washington, D.C., organization that sponsors music programs and buys instruments for underprivileged children. Leaning heavily on the rustic songwriter set, it's not necessarily an eclectic list, but it's an impressive one. The young at heart such as John Prine and Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers share space with the young, period, such as Case-in-training Hayes Carll, who sounds like Steve Earle's not-so-kid brother on the set-opening "Beyond The Blues". Other contributors such as Neuwirth, Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Kevn Kinney are beyond kindred spirits to Case; they're brothers related by ink and ideas, not blood. The selections range from the Nerves-era "When You Find Out" (tackled by a twelve-string-slinging Sid Griffin and his band Western Electric) to "Wake-Up Call", a song recorded for the 2004 Case compilation Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile?, here given a Replacementsy treatment by Low & Sweet Orchestra alum Mike Martt. First-disc highlights are Chambers' upbeat and horn-happy "Walking Home Late", a moving version of "Honey Child" from Susan Cowsill, and Richard Buckner's direct take on "Poor Old Tom", a street-level song Buckner was born to cover. A punchy "Put Down The Gun" from Joe Ely is a disc two standout, while Todd Snider's "Travellin' Light", James McMurtry's "Old Part Of Town", and Ronny Elliott's "Horse And Crow" play out like a three-song suite. Disc three offers a distinct change in mood, sparked by five Plimsouls songs, including "Great Big World", to which the Kennedys apply their trademark pop shimmer, and a hopped-up "Zero Hour" from Chris Gaffney. Best of all is Steve Wynn's "A Million Miles Away", with things slowed down just enough to reveal the soul song within. In a nice bit of bookending, Case gets the last word as disc three closes with a live version -- just Case and his guitar at Philadelphia's Tin Angel -- of "Beyond The Blues", a song he wrote with Russell and Neuwirth. "Each line he sings rhymes with the truth," indeed.