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Neko Case’s superb 2009 album Middle Cyclone catapulted her from indie fringes to the mainstream charts.

But there’s no triumphalism on the follow-up, which opens with a sad, feedback-tinged number about her mother’s death, Case singing clear, measured vocals over rumbling guitar chords as though searching for a rationale.

Accompanied by a fine line-up of backing musicians (M. Ward, Howe Gelb, members of My Morning Jacket and Calexico), the Vermont-based singer-songwriter brings a nicely judged ratio of darkness and light to her music, turning a hard-hitting tale of emotional neglect into a moving a cappella spiritual (“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”) and reaching a tentatively resonant conclusion in “Ragtime” as growling alt-rock vies with optimistic trumpet calls.

Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

(ANTI)

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