Depending on which album you pick up, Peter Case can be a hard-edged rocker, a contemplative folkie, or a singer and songwriter with his heart in the blues, and there’s a little bit of all three men on 2015’s HWY 62, Case‘s first studio album since 2010’s Wig. While HWY 62‘s arrangements are largely acoustic, this album is quiet like a 3 a.m. jam session, with a low decibel count but plenty of emotional intensity, and Case‘s vocals are all subtle fire on these sessions, passionate and with plenty to say even when he whispers. HWY 62 also finds Case with plenty on his mind about American life in the 21st century, and this album is full of tales of justice denied, from the tales of the American prison complex on “Pelican Bay” and one man’s struggles against the judicial system on “All Dressed Up (For Trial),” to the stacked deck of income inequality of “Water from a Stone” and “Evicted,” and Case is canny enough to sound fully committed without seeming like he’s one more ranting protest singer. In his songs, Case makes his characters sound flawed but human, and he’s more a vivid storyteller than someone mounting a soapbox, a guy who understands the ups and downs of human nature but has a hard time with needless cruelty even as he’s trying to forgive. (His songs about love and various unusual folks he’s encountered in his travels connect solidly, too.) Case and his producer Sheldon Gomberg have assembled a great band for these sessions, featuring Ben Harper on lead and slide guitar, David Carpenter on bass, and D.J. Bonebrake on the drums, and they give the music a rich, smoky feel that suits this material beautifully. And whoever persuaded Case to cover Bob Dylan‘s “Long Time Gone” deserves a free lunch with a large order of fries. HWY 62 finds Peter Case rockin’ the blues a little bit and singing with serious heart, soul, and wisdom all the time, and nearly three decades into his solo career he remains one of our best and most compelling singer/songwriters, with this album as proof.
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