Born in Buffalo, just a few blocks from U.S. Route 62, Peter Case made his way to San Francisco to busk on the streets, then to Los Angeles where he spearheaded the late-70s power pop movement with the Nerves and Plimsouls. He’s since taken a more solitary road, touring with just his songs and guitar, gathering stories for his writing. Though not literally itinerant – he’s still homed in Los Angeles – his travels have traced the trails of those who inspire him. His latest collection of songs is titled after the northeast-to-southwest highway that runs through his hometown, and that his childhood eyes saw as a “connection to the world I wanted to live in, the American West”
The productions step back to a folkier vibe from the electric blues of 2010’s Wig!, but retain the underlying power of drummer D.J. Bonebrake, and add the instrumental voices of guitarist Ben Harper and bassist David Carpenter. The songs wind through a variety of musical landscapes, just as Route 62 winds through Bobby Fuller’s El Paso, Buddy Holly’s Lubbock, Sonny Throckmorton’s Carlsbad, Woody Guthrie’s Okemah, Ronnie Hawkins’ Fayetteville, the Everly Brothers’ Central City, and Phil Ochs’ Columbus. The social consciousness of Guthrie and Ochs’ are evoked in the opening “Pelican Bay,” as Case questions the industrialization of America’s prisons and the particular harshness of solitary confinement.
A broader palette of social injustice is on Case’s mind as “Water From a Stone” segues between the travails of undocumented aliens, corporatism, global warming, the appropriation of Native American lands, rising eviction rates, crushing educational debt and outsourced manufacturing. Justice is called into question again in both “Evicted” and “All Dressed Up (for Trial),” with the latter suggesting that final judgment isn’t necessarily a mortal matter. That same leveling in the afterlife provides redemption for the existential lament “The Long Good Time,” and turns the gravesite of “Bluebells” into a pastoral place to leave behind one’s foibles.
Case is often described as a troubadour – a wandering singer who collects and transports stories – and the slow blues “Waiting on a Plane” takes this role into the jet age. Though the lyric describes a thief whose escape is blocked, one can’t help think this was written during an unintended tour stop in an airport terminal. A more scenic view of blue highways and club dates is painted in “New Mexico,” with Harper’s electric guitar painting a shadowy late-night mesa. Case’s songwriting is in fine form, but his most full-throated passion comes on a cover of Dylan’s “Long Time Gone,” closing out the lyrical portion of this excellent (and long overdue) new album. [©2015 Hyperbolium]