Neko Case and The Sadies with Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday and Sunday (April 3-4). Sold out. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
If it's good enough for the great Andre Williams, then the concept of recording a live album in collaboration with the Sadies is evidently fine by Neko Case. Actually, the idea of documenting a performance with Toronto's backing group to the stars is something country crooner Case has had on her mind for a dog's age. It's just taken the right planetary alignment and fortuitous tour schedule openings to finally come together.
So why stage it in Toronto of all places for the jet-setting Case? Well, it turns out that an early-morning getdown at an historic local after-hours hangout originally gave her the notion that a live album might be in order.
"It was a show I did with the Sadies at the Matador a long time ago," recalls Case, suddenly aglow. "There was this amazing energy. Everyone was dancing and having a great time - just crazy fun. That had to be one of the most exciting experiences of my life.
"Also, the Sadies are the best live band I've ever known. I love them and I love singing with them, but they're so busy now and I'm so busy that I never even get to see them. I thought doing this live album would be a good excuse for us to spend some time together.
"I've been writing and recording demos by myself for a while now, and it was starting to get lonely. I'm going through this Neil Young phase where if the band isn't playing on a song, it sucks. Just this week I wrote three new songs with the Sadies."
In typically atypical Neko fashion, the live recording won't simply be a straight-up rehash of previously released material. So Case has written new material for the dates, conspired with the Sadies on a few other tunes, and then, of course, there are always the covers.
"I think a lot of artists put out live albums just to get out of their label contracts, but I want to do a really good job. The idea of redoing things you've already released seems really boring, so I've taken the opportunity to write some new stuff and play some songs I love by other people.
"There's a Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard bluegrass tune I'd like to get Jim and Jennie to help me sing, a Shangri-Las song, one by the Nervous Eaters and something by Buffy Sainte-Marie. She was a really big deal to me growing up on the Canadian border. I named my first dog after her, and that's a huge compliment."
The one notable exception is the song Favorite, which Case has previously released in a demo version on the Down To The Promised Land: 5 Years Of Bloodshot Records compilation and on her Canadian Amp tour CD.
Only neither take comes close to the stirring power of Case's soaring live renditions, which have made the bloody waltz-time thriller her signature song.
"Yeah, Favorite really does come across way better live than either of the recorded versions, and that's why I want to do it for this album. The first time I recorded the song was the first time I ever sang it, so I was a little tentative. But I still have warm feelings about those other takes. You've got to love hearing Brett Sparks singing about blood on his dress."
Unfortunately, the Handsome Family won't be able to make this weekend's festivities, but a number of Case's long-time cohorts will appear, namely multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, Corn Sister Carolyn Mark and backing-vocalist-for-hire Kelly Hogan. There may also be a few surprises in store.
"The shows aren't going to be overly structured. We're trying to keep it simple and just let things happen. I'm hoping everyone I know will show up - and Prince, too. His Purple Majesty is always welcome on my stage." email@example.com