The trouble with most pop vocal trios, especially all-star amalgamations of previously celebrated solo artists, isn’t the singing. If the harmony wasn’t there, the teaming would have never caught fire in the first place. No, the kinks usually surface in the writing. As such collaborations are of often designed as exhibitions of star power, the songs handed to the artists involved are either perfunctory tunes offered to capitalize on the harmonies or pop covers cut to insure the product’s accessibility.
It should come as little surprise that case/lang/veirs, an absolutely sumptuous session of elegant turbulence, quiet provocation and blissful singing, doesn’t adhere to any of the expected supergroup prototypes. Formed at the behest of Canadian cross-genre chanteuse k.d. lang, the trio pens 14 tunes of their own, covering everything from tales of rapturous and shattered romance to startling eulogies. The singing? Well, it’s sterling throughout. That’s kind of a given with the remarkable songstresses Neko Case and Laura Veirs rounding out the trio. But it’s the songs on case/lang/veirs that really grab you. To say they compliment the harmonies doesn’t begin to cut to the core of the album’s serene glow.
For many, lang is the marquee name here. For anyone who has lost touch with the clarity and emotional potency of her singing as well as the often exquisite longing of her best compositions, look no further than Honey and Smoke, a breathtaking love song of distant unrest that any singer would (or at least ought to) kill for. But pair that with the satin-rich voice that reveals not one iota of a blemish from a career that has railed on for more than three decades, along with the hushed girl group vocals Case and Veirs supply (an integral component to Trevor Martine’s lustrous production) and the sparks begin to regally fly.
Case, not surprisingly, turns such stately pop tradition on its ear during Delirium with an equal measure of defiance and distance (“I kissed you in the morning, but only in my mind’s eye”) and blurrier, neo-psychedelic backdrops that twist new shapes out of familiar girl-group pop in much the same way R.E.M.’s later records embraced softer, more ambient flavored variations of its earlier elemental sound.
Veirs may be — comparatively, at least — the least established of the three trio members (she opened a Decemberists concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts in 2009). But she maintains the most visible songwriting presence on the album, running from the spry, summery requiem for the doomed 1960s songstress Judee Still (Song for Judee) to the dizzying, orchestral rumination Best Kept Secret.
Throw all that in the same pop neighborhood and you have what may be the most articulate and sonically satisfying pop album of the summer.
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.