The venerable Peter Case returns from recovery with an album that is inevitably stellar.
Listening to Peter Case's new album is a deliriously joyous experience. Largely a set of swampy electric blues/rock, the type that could only emerge from the singular, decades-long solo career Case has led, Wig! was recorded in only a few days by a core set of ace players who convened for a gig and stuck around for a weekend to cut live tracks to analog tape. This process seems to have put him in top form, sounding truly revitalized after the well-publicized health scare that gave rise to that gig in the first place. It would be hard to not think of this as a deliberate choice, all things considered, if it weren't for how natural and fully inhabited these songs sound.
The solidarity of the full-band experience is evident from the get-go, on "Dig What You're Putting Down", a freewheeling testament to getting it together and doing just what the title says. Case borrows a line from an early Elvis hit to drive the point home, singing, "Cause I want you, I need you, Iahahah love you", affecting a similar vocal stutter as the 1956 original, at a faster clip and with just a little more abandon.
From the languid introductory notes of a sultry Rhodes on opener "Banks of the River" straight on through the roll-and-tumble of Wig! at large, a lot of these tunes live and breathe age-old communal music traditions of striking it up with an those around you and letting it flow. For instance, take Case laying it down about, "An old man on the bank of the river / Sat and played his old guitar / Frankie reached into his jagged pocket / Pulled out a beat-up harp and began to blow…"
Another preoccupation that binds the album is the anxiety of being down and out. Yet there's a certain revelry in the freedom such a position can afford, as Case proclaims, "I live every day like a millionaire" over the hypnotic, piano driven sway of "Aint Got No Dough". He's about to "really lose it this time" over the fiendish romantic entanglements found on "My Kind of Trouble", a serious slice of lounging slow-blues that follows, and yet perversely enough, he's clearly in his element all the while.
Characteristic of some of Peter Case's best work, there's a certain light-heartedness to the off-the-cuff material on Wig!, both in sound and narrative. The shuffling "House Rent Jump", for one, has a sort of humorous titular double-meaning, referring both to a rent hike and also the subgenre of jump-blues that the song seems modeled on. When he belts, "It's a free country / but it sure ain't cheap!" during the song's chorus, it seems an obvious nod to his health insurance woes, but why read too much into such a delightfully playful quip when it speaks for itself?
The music seems a natural extension of the problems put forth, co-existing in the same environment that gives rise to them in the first place, as if being performed in the background of the very scenarios being described. Case slides effortlessly around multiple styles, sounding at home delivering the jailhouse stomp-blues of "Thirty Days in the Workhouse" and circling back to answer the time served with "Somebody Told the Truth", where he imagines, "The courthouse emptied out / The jurors all went home… The prisoners were freed."
Wig! closes with "House Rent Party", one of the few tracks recorded separately from the band with Case on solo acoustic guitar. Revisiting themes from earlier, Case sings about medical bills and eviction and plenty of other reasons he needs to catch a break. This powerful closer offers a chance for a new beginning, however, rooted back in the camaraderie that proves such a central focus to the album's undeniable catharsis: "I know we're gonna make it, don't care what we have to do / I know you'd do the same for me as I would do for you / There's a house rent party tonight / we're going to blow the roof sky high". There's plenty to read into with the themes found on Wig!, in light of what Peter Case has gone through, but ultimately it's a triumphant album to behold on its own merits. "I'm gonna start a brand new band, we'll play anywhere but here", Case sings. If this record is any proof, you know it was his best and only answer.