Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Airwaves (The Midnight Broadcast)

If you've ever twiddled the radio dial late at night when the ionosphere was in one of its capricious moods and the receiver was pulling in haunted signals from who knows where, signals that faded out as mysteriously as they appeared, you'll get this record right away. Peter Case is well-known as a songwriter, but on The Midnight Broadcast the only Case composition ("Just Hanging On") is one he has recorded before (though with a very different arrangement). There are two Dylan tunes (or strictly speaking one Dylan tune and one Danko-Dylan tune) and the rest of the songs mostly belong to the churning alchemical matrix of "folk music," attributed or otherwise, including old blues songs, a raucous cowboy number, a couple of nautical tunes, a lament by a New Zealand gold-miner, and a version of "Stewball," the ode to a champion racehorse that has been morphing from one form to another since the 1780s. Alternating with and sometimes overlaying the music are miscellaneous synthesizer drones, whistles, and loops, interspersed with scraps of DJ patter (voiced by Ross Johnson) that might be described as Joycean cornball. The whole aural collage was put together in the Old Whaling Church on Martha's Vineyard with the participation of longtime Case collaborators Ron Franklin (who produced) and Bert Deivert, among others. The apt cover photo above is by David Emsinger.

Case's usual instrument when he performs is acoustic guitar, but on The Midnight Broadcast he often sits at the piano, even picking out an instrumental version of the pop-jazz standard "Dinah." But there's gorgeous guitar work on St. Louis Jimmy Oden's "Going Down Slow," Memphis Minnie's "Bumble Bee," and elsewhere. Some of these songs have been in Case's repertoire for decades, but here they sound fresh. There's a richness and depth to this record that speak to long years of experience as a performer but also to a willingness to mix it up, to discover unexpected musical textures, and to make the old new.

The Midnight Broadcast is available on CD from Bandaloop Records. An LP is forthcoming.

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