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CD Review: Neko Case's Middle Cyclone 

The Deal: Neko Case's swirling odes to windswept love scenes.

The Good: "What if a tornado fell in love with you," Neko Case asks in a video promo for her newest release, Middle Cyclone. "What would a tornado's love look like?" Probably as dangerous as Case sounds on her collection of no-nonsense love songs that make up this Cyclone. Once billed as an alt-country diva, Case has outgrown that description, morphing into an edgy, sophisticated pop stylist. It's an odd juxtaposition. Sporting a nasal twang that sounds like she should be singing about dawgs and pickup trucks, Case is backed by soft, lush background sounds that make you want to lie back in her arms and relax. But you're in for a rude awakening when she slaps you upside the head with lines like, "The next time you say forever/I will punch you in your face" from "The Next Time You Say Forever." The music is bucolic pop, recorded in a drafty 200-year-old barn on her 100-acre farm in Vermont. Rural ambient noise is a part of the soundscape, from stray gusts of wind puffing up the tinklings of the eight thrown-away pianos she resurrected for her keyboard orchestra to the 32-minute-long track of croaking frogs and chirping crickets that ends the release. But its Case's vocals, with a touch of bristling, spiky punk piercing her down-home gurrl tonsils, that move this cyclone from hovering down on the farm to wreaking genre-bending havoc cross country.

The Bad: Case makes her case that love hurts. Enough already. Now give us something to stop the bleeding.

The Verdict: Stand back and marvel, but don't get too close.

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