It's hard to make a case for this being Peter's best work
If Peter Case had never entered a recording studio again after 1983, he’d still be lauded in most circles nowadays for having put pen to paper and written “A Million Miles Away” while fronting the Plimsouls. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after the group released their Geffen debut (and swan song), Everywhere at Once that they gave up the ghost and disbanded.
Thankfully, however, Case didn’t end his music career at that point. Three years after Everywhere at Once, he re-emerged on Geffen as a solo artist, releasing an eponymous debut album produced by the one-two punch of T-Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom and featuring arrangements by Van Dyke Parks.
Two further Geffen albums followed (The Man with the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar and Six-Pack of Love), but each was slightly less popular, and, by 1993, Case had retreated to independent label Vanguard Records. They must treat him pretty well. It’s now ten years later, and he’s been there ever since. (The only exception has been Thank You, St. Jude, a self-released collection of acoustic re-recordings that snuck out last year.)
Unfortunately, Beeline, Case’s latest album, isn’t quite up to the standards he set with his previous Vanguard release, Flying Saucer Blues. To be fair, though, those are some pretty high standards. (Some folks say that Case’s single best solo work is his 1995 album, Torn Again, but, then, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Me, I’ve gotta go with Flying Saucer Blues, with his Geffen debut a close second.)
Beeline starts strong with “If You Got a Light to Shine”, which has a lovely chorus. According to the liner notes, the track was written the weekend after September 11th. Knowing this fact adds poignancy to the song, and it also makes Case’s plea, “If you got a light to shine, shine your ever-loving light on me”, seem all that more desperate.
Unfortunately, while the opener is uplifting, a great deal of the album is really a bit of a downer. Case says, “I never sat down to write these songs . . . they’re the ones that came to me through the last year.” While there’s certainly nothing wrong with following divine inspiration, if that’s what these songs came courtesy of, but maybe a little quality control might’ve helped here and there. “Evening Raga” is definitely a drag, and “It’s Cold Inside” which bears an undeniable musical similarity to Tom Waits, is a bit of a snooze as well.
“If You’ve Got a Light to Shine” isn’t alone in the wilderness, though. “I Hear Your Voice” is another very nice track, as is “Gone”. In fact, whether by coincidence or design, the best tracks turn out to be the odd-numbered ones . . . which means that, ultimately, Beeline is only about half of a really good Peter Case album.
It should be noted that, of the even-numbered tracks, “Something’s Coming” isn’t all that great to begin with, but in the category of “legitimately awful” is the album’s bonus track, a remix of the song by Rob Swift. Save yourself the excruciation and turn off the disc after track 10 (“First Light”, which is actually so good that it should’ve been odd-numbered) fades to a close.
Case will probably be forever remembered by the general populace as a musical footnote (one involving the words “Plimsouls” and “A Million Miles Away”, naturally), but, for those who enjoy the strains of contemporary folk, he’s carved himself quite a nice niche and continues to compile a strong discography. Beeline may not be at the top of his recorded accomplishments, but there’s still enough strong material to recommend the disc to his fans.
As a starting point, though . . . well, let’s just say that the uninitiated should definitely purchase from elsewhere in the Peter Case back catalog.
// Notes from the Road
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