Album Review: Peter Case, ‘The Midnight Broadcast’

Roll down the windows in your car and fiddle with the radio knobs until you land on the tumbling, caressing, and swirling tunes of Peter Case and let them carry you through the night. With The Midnight Broadcast, Case carries us on a road trip through the rocky terrain of the blues and the wavering two-lane blacktop of folk, keeping us company as he re-creates the feelings of flying through the darkness in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, searching the radio dial for music and listening to loppy DJs, crackerjack preachers and car salesman, the news of the living and the dead, and songs about race horse, cowboys, and steamships.

Spare piano notes cascade into space, playing call and response to Bert Deivert’s sparkling mandolin notes, on the album opener, “Just Hangin’ On,” a haunting ballad whose minor chords mingle with a poppy brightness to capture the ragged desperation of loneliness and the dogged questions about the meaning of life. The traditional country ballad “Stewball” canters off following a spacey, echoing snippet from a radio DJ who’s part preacher and part salesman. Ron Franklin, who produced the album, creates a foggy desolation with his Moog as he evokes the ship’s blasts on the Cecil Tawney-penned “Grey Funnel Line,” a haunting farewell song to life on a Great Lakes sailing vessel, and perhaps to life itself. Case captures the rawness of Dylan’s social commentary about the harsh vagaries of empire in a bluesy romping style on “Early Roman Kings.” Case ambles and strolls on along his piano keys in a slowed down version of the long introduction to the jazz toodle “Dinah,” written by Harry Akst and made famous by Louis Armstrong. Mournful, gospel-inflected piano chords roll into the stately blues rumination, penned by Sleepy John Estes, “Oh the Morning President Kennedy,” while Case’s raw voice and bright acoustic guitar tell the tale of “Charlie James” (Mance Lipscomb) before slowly unfolding into the laconic blues ramble “Bumble Bee” (Memphis Minnie). The album closes with a slowed down, meditative take on The Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire.”

The Midnight Broadcast
illustrates Case’s canny genius as a songwriter and his ingenious ability to take traditional songs and turn them into shimmering gifts for a new generation of listeners. Case’s midnight broadcast is one we never want to miss.

The Midnight Broadcast is available HERE.



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