Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs mightn’t be household names, but these women are accomplished musicians and songwriters who are held in high regard within their respective corners of the music world. They are also all really good singers whose voices are incredibly complementary. Several years ago, out of the blue while the three were barely acquainted, an email was sent proposing they team up in the studio. That email was sent from Lang. Case and Veirs quickly assented to the project and the first steps towards case/lang/veirs were taken.
Living in Portland, Oregon, it was easy for Lang and Veirs to start working together, but Case had a busy touring schedule and resides in Vermont, which posed a logistical hurdle for the trio. Producing a covers album was briefly considered as a solution, an idea that was promptly dismissed when it was agreed that the strongest possible record would result from a full song-writing collaboration. It took two and a half years to bring case/lang/veirs to fruition, and the album bears the indelible fingerprints of those involved; Lang’s warm croon provides solid reinforcement for Veirs’ country-folk tones, while Case covers the middle-ground and demonstrates the versatility that her voice is known for. It is somewhat astounding that over the album’s 14 songs no one is upstaged, with each artist taking a lead or backing role as required, which is a true testament to the collaborative approach taken.
Opening track, Atomic Number, amply demonstrates this approach as Lang, Veirs, and Case enter in turn, building to the crystal clear harmonies as the three sing “elements so pure/atomic number” at the chorus. These gorgeous harmonies and vocal interplays are what make case/lang/veirs a compelling act, and the song’s instrumentation – starting from arpeggiated guitar – builds and releases across its three minutes, with a string arrangement deftly deployed in support of this flow. Honey and Smoke has a slight sense of jazz or lounge music about it, fitting with Lang’s croon taking the lead – which provides the smoke – while Veirs and Case’s backing vocals provide the honey. Veirs drives the country-folk of Song for Judee, which is musically well textured and executed with none of the augmentations being there just for show. It is a song that unfurls over repeat listenings.
case/lang/veirs has a strong focus on the everyday, the unextraordinary, and the relatable, with some of the album’s strongest emotional punches arising from the simpler compositions that set their focus on the lyrics and their delivery. Blue Fires contemplates unrequited love, with the lines “why do blue flames burn in me/yet not in you” hitting you where you live, while 1000 Miles Away explores emotional distance despite an intimate proximity. It is unsurprising that Lang – the elder of the trio – leads these tracks, adding gravitas through her experience and unornate vocal style. Down I-5 laments the inevitability of death because it means that the everyday beauty that is glimpsed in passing – horses on the hill, laundry on the line, cut grass – while driving would no longer be experienced. The music matches the defiant tone, while propelling the song forward on insistent rhythms.
Supermoon induces shivers via its expert arrangement, and its observation that “nature isn’t magic/it’s just a mystery to us”. Vocally and lyrically it is classic Case, but it is the partnership with Lang and Veirs that provides an ineffable delight to the song. Much as Atomic Number proved to be an ideal start to the record, Georgia Stars proves to be the perfect ending. There is a deceptive sense of simplicity about the track – perfectly blending folk with indie-rock – which exemplifies case/lang/veirs. Lang had been considering retirement prior to the formation of the trio, and we lucky that she didn’t as the musical landscape is certainly improved by case/lang/veirs.