“It’s a rip-off to buy a sprawling double-live album full of songs you already have,” says Neko Case, which is precisely why those of us who buy them often do so based solely on our loyalty to the artists who produce them. More often than not the albums stay hidden deep within our stacks, pulled out only when we feel some pang of economic conscience.
As a stark contrast to run-of-the-mill live recordings — which always seem suspiciously political, a temporary solution to an artist’s lack of productivity — The Tigers Have Spoken is a surprisingly unique live album. Recorded mainly at live engagements in Chicago and Toronto, non-LP material abounds on this album, which includes only two tracks from her previous catalogue: the rare “Favorite” from the 2001 Canadian Amp EP and the title track from 2002’s Blacklisted.
Those who have seen Case live know there’s always a sense that the audience is part of the show. Perhaps because she has yet to pack crowded venues, we are allowed the illusion of participation. She calls out to us, jokes with us, and on the last track on this release, she even asks us to participate. The album’s closing track, the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger,” was partially recorded with her audience at 2003’s IdeaCity Conference singing the chorus. The album features skillful covers, including Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Soulful Shade of Blue” and Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X.” And Case tackles a few traditional tunes: “This Little Light of Mine” and the aforementioned “Wayfaring Stranger.”
Leaving behind the eerie echoes of her studio recordings, Case presents a more upbeat and fast-paced palette anchored by the Sadies’ raucous rhythm section. Electric guitarist Dallas Good, vocalist Carolyn Mark from Case’s Corn Sisters project, and longtime friend and harmonizing partner Kelly Hogan are also on the album.
As with much of her recent material, Case avoids the mistake of letting her songs draw out, but this makes some songs seem incomplete because of their brevity. As with Blacklisted’s haunting “With Bees (Outro),” Tigers’ “Train from Kansas City” barely seems to leave the station before it screeches to a halt. Especially with such a talented group of musicians like the Sadies backing her, we can’t help but wish for a little less understatement and a little more flourish.