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The Corn Sisters | The Other Women (Mint Records)
Neko Case is a woman who likes to keep busy. Since receiving a drum kit as a gift from a friend at age 18, she has barely drawn breath. Drifting around the USA and Canada, the girl from Virginia smashed it up in numerous punk bands, before discovering that she had a half-decent voice when asked to perform backing vocals from the stool with Vancouver trio Maow. Her first love, though (besides Tap Dancing), had always been Country, and whilst studying for a BA in Fine Arts, and not gigging with Maow, Neko found the time to assemble the cream of local talent ?? the first incarnation of The Boyfriends ?? to record her solo debut, The Virginian. One Boyfriend was Carolyn Mark, from pop-surf-art-country-rock all-girl four-piece, The Vinaigrettes, who produced six albums during their seven-year history, finally splitting in 1998, citing "nervous indifference" as the reason, "leaving dozens of fans mildly disappointed". Neko and Carolyn clicked, and The Corn Sisters became another project for them both, intended only as an occasional touring proposition. Time frame warped here for the sake of compacted info, Neko continued to blaze through life, recording with, amongst many others, Ron Sexsmith, Mekons and the wonderful New Pornographers; touring incessantly, studying hard and single-handedly raising her two sons. Carolyn formed a new band with her roommates called, er, The Room Mates, convening with Neko for Corn Sisters shows whenever they felt like it, most probably when they should have been taking holidays. One such show occurred at Hattie's Hat Restaurant in Seattle in May 1998, and it is this evening, or at least part of it, that has been presented for our consumption as The Other Women. Live albums are more often than not humdrum affairs, and this is no exception. Neko spanks a snare, Carolyn strums, and they both holler in a spirited manner through a clutch of ordinary originals and a slew of covers from the likes of Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams and Nick Lowe. The performances are, and I hate the word, nice ?? hearty busking, but nothing more ?? but it is the total lack of atmosphere that makes this all but redundant as a live release. A sleeve photo shows five punters in attendance, yards from the Sisters. From the recording, it's difficult to believe that there was anyone else present apart from the restaurant staff. There is sparse, polite applause 'tween tracks, and one whoop and chuckle during Corn on the Cob, the penultimate track. I can't believe that there have not been more crackling shows captured, so I feel at a loss as to why this one has been released. The packaging is lush, but I feel that this album serves only as a document for the curious as to Neko's development. It is perfectly feasible that she could become a Country colossus in time, whereupon this release may well be regarded as are, for example, Nick Drake's Tamworth-in-Arden recordings or the recently issued lost recordings of Gram Parsons, but as for now, it's just cute. In her first (only?) video (for Timber), Neko destroys a bar with the aid of a guitar, a golf club and a baseball bat, a tad miffed at aloof patrons blanking her performance. Dodgy or not, I guess you'd better buy it then, in case you get a visit from the flame-haired one. And her sister.

Tom Sheriff
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001