I was going to think up some clever title for this blog post but that impetus to be too clever seemed to run counter to everything that made this album so directly appealing in the first place in 1986. The first Peter Case solo record, called appropriately enough Peter Case, dropped on Geffen in 1986. The long-player has now been reissued in a fine, fine package from Omnivore Recordings complete with bonus cuts. And I'm so happy I was able to get familiar with this one again.
The one-time frontman of genuine New Wave legends The Nerves and The Plimsouls virtually created music that bridged that gap from the skinny tie era to an age when bands like R.E.M. and Let's Active got their music called college rock. For someone like me, it's not an understatement to say that seeing Nic Cage in Valley Girl (1983) driving around while "A Million Miles Away" cranked on the soundtrack informed so much of what 16-year-old me thought the cool kids should be. I had graduated from Devo to The Plimsouls, from something intellectual and satirical to something heartfelt and genuine, but something that was still outside the mainstream.
That sense of the genuine is something Peter Case brought to his first solo record. Recorded with T. Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom, the album has traces of the big 'ole Eighties all over it -- those Linn drums! -- but it is also a set of material from a unique talent in American rock as "authentic" as anything Dylan or Petty were dropping in that era. And listened to now, the album is every bit as good as the college rock that perhaps got a bit more attention at the time.
"Echo Wars" rings with players who'd been on bigger Peter Gabriel releases bringing an understated sense of percussion to the backing behind Case's voice and guitar. If "Steel Strings" is the peak of this record -- and it might be -- then the Van Dyke Parks-orchestrated "Small Town Spree" is the hidden gem, seeing as how it combines a presentation of Case's voice and guitar that is nothing if not immediate even as the strings lurk and percolate with lush menace in the background. It is, 30 years later, the biggest surprise of this release, placing Case and his songs at a level perhaps more serious than those of some of his cow-punk peers from 1986. Sure, I still love The Long Ryders and Lone Justice, but this cut is something very special, something that resonates for more than its obvious folkie and near-country elements.
Elsewhere, "Satellite Beach" and "Old Blue Car" are every bit as good as you probably remember them being and they wrap things up on the record proper in fine fashion. The additional material kicks in and a listener is treated on this Omnivore Recordings reissue to 7 bonus cuts with the rough acoustic version of "I Shook His Hand" being my favorite. Another winner is the well-produced "Toughest Gang in Town" which sounds like the best thing The BoDeans never got around to recording.
Look, if you didn't know and love this album in 1986, you need to grab it now. It's every bit as essential as the other big records of that year even if it somehow escapes the waves of nostalgia that still greet those bigger releases. If you loved it then, you're gonna love it now as it sounds absolutely superb. While there are production elements here that sound like 1986 stuff, they remain understated and place this record next to Paul Simon's Graceland from the same year as a pretty good example of something that sounds of its era but which doesn't sound entirely dated. I can't really say the same about Invisible Touch, you know what I mean?
Peter Case by Peter Case is a wonderful showcase for one of America's best singer-songwriters and a piece of uniquely timeless Americana that holds its own next to any release from Los Lobos or The Del Fuegos, for example. On this one, Case took his place as one of our best musicians and one can only hope that this reissue of Peter Case earns him renewed respect for his craft and the insights he brought to listeners in an era of big hair. This is authentic and simple music that listeners would be wise to get re-acquainted with. That it's never sounded so good is yet another reason to rejoice.