Another chapter of my own book of likings, of artists under the radar, should definitely be about Peter Case. Well, in this case he’s not under the critics radar, nor under other artists radar, he’s an artist’s artist. The list of fans between his fellow singer/songwriters is a long one, including John Prine and Bruce Springsteen, Joe Ely and Dave Alvin, and many, many more. Some of them made a wonderful triple tribute album to him already in 2005 “A Case for Case”, less than twenty years after his solo debut in 1986, following the years as street musician in the early seventies, the years in early punk-band The Nerves and later forming the band The Plimsouls. His second solo album had the fabulous title “The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar”!
Always a fine songwriter in his own, then again, always the generous medium, richly sharing of his knowledge and love of music history, old and new. That’s including both old and new songs of Bob Dylan. Take his version of Long Time Gone, easily the best cover of this song ever, the song as much as the performance tightly woven into both tradition and presence.
His new album, “The Midnight Broadcast” , is like a letter from a home we didn’t know existed, him reminding us of what it’s all about, after all, a letter that reaches us in the middle of the pandemic, just when we needed it most, even if it was written a couple of years ago (the album recorded in The Old Whaling Church in 2019). In his own words it’s his “attempt to capture the feeling I got on innumerable drives through the American night with the radio on.” And he succeeds in this, but also in more than that, it’s a drive through history, a drive across the ocean, a drive through music and a drive through human nature. That old time feeling – the sound of switching channels, tomwaitsque surprising interruptions and surrealistic talk mixed with timeless music makes the album a dreamlike roadtrip, mixing the almost hundred years old pop hit “Dinah” with old blues gems like “Going Down Slow” by St Louis Jimmy Oden, with “The First Lowering” intro. Whether there is a connection by a Moby Dick reference and The Old Whaling Church might be a stretch to suggest, but a quite lucky touch after all. An old folk song like “Stewball” comes along with the sea shanty about folk hero “Captain Stormalong”, Case’s improvisation on the great Memphis Minnie’s “Bumble Bee” fits perfectly fine besides a bouncing “When I Was A Cowboy”, first released by Leadbelly as “Out On The Western Plains” in 1946. The album starts beautiful with Peter Case’s own old song, “Just Hanging On” – and shows us from the first song what a great singer he is. The beautiful “Grey Funnel Line” was written in 1959 by Cyril Tawney, the title the nick name for “The Royal Navy” where Tawney served. Recorded first in 1970, by Tawney himself in 1972. Not that old a song, but with the quality of the folk ballads it has to be inspired by. The same could be said of the wonderful “Farewell To The Gold” by Paul Metsers, one of many proofs of Case’s exquisite taste when picking songs.
Case also gives us a great smoking first cover of Dylan’s “Early Roman Kings”, bringing it all back home to the sound of Chess Records mixed with tales of both old and new kings, fallen empires and sharkskin suits and top hats. Both Bobby and Muddy and Bo nods their hats to Peter for this one.
Case also presents his short alternative version of the murder most foul, one of the best performances on the album, Sleepy John Estes’ “President Kennedy” (Case was Grammy-nominated for Best Traditional Folk album in 1992, “Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John”. And there really is a relationship between Peter Case and Bob Dylan, in more than one way – they are both singing the truth, and they are both singing/songwriting archivists and guides to both the musical and human past, present and future, the ghost of “The Midnight Broadcast” reminds me of the spirit of Dylan’s “World Gone Wrong”. Then again, it ends with Dylan and Danko’s “Wheels On Fire”:
If your mem’ry serves you well
You’ll remember you’re the one
That called on me to call on them
To get you your favors done
And after ev’ry plan had failed
And there was nothing more to tell
You knew that we would meet again
If your mem’ry served you well
This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode!
Listen to Peter Case! Listen to “The Midnight Broadcast”! And then some more.