Casey Neill has the kind of voice that makes you stop what you are doing. It’s timeless, like something that might drift out of a jukebox in a roadside tavern somewhere in Middle America. But there are other qualities there that make it truly unmistakable: hints of Michael Stipe’s vibrato tenor, some alt. country inflections of Jay Farrar and the occasional whiskey-soaked growl of Shane McGowan.
I caught a show by Casey and his band, The Norway Rats, at the Laurelthirst Public House one Wednesday as part of his month-long happy hour residency at Portland’s favorite Americana pub. I’ve been listening to him since college, and have come to expect a mellow, easy-on-the-ears folk/country sound (with an occasional rocker thrown in); essentially a predictable mix best characterized by his 2007 album, Brooklyn Bridge. The 2007 album was recorded mostly in New York City, and documents his stint in Brooklyn, while also placing his songwriting and vocals at center stage.
As I should have expected, a lot has changed for Casey since those days in New York. His live show at the Laurelthirst was anything but mellow. Since coming back to Portland and re-establishing his roots a few years ago, Casey put together a super-group of the city’s finest folk/Americana musicians—including Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists, and Scott McCaughey of Minus 5. While not all the household names where there last Wednesday night, the band played a rousing set of rockers balanced by a few old favorites (see “Riffraff”) and some folksy solos.
Neill embraced the talents of some of these same stellar musicians on his 2010 release “Goodbye to the Rank and File” with a nice blend of Celtic punk, rockabilly and folk. Neill’s literate sensibilities ground each song in memorable images and turns of phrase. It’s a nostalgic homage to a country life that may have never been, and puts you inside the cool silver waters of the quarry with a young lover on a hot summer night.
Look for his newest record “All You Pretty Vandals” to be released this year, produced by Chris Funk of the Decemberists.
Neill says of the new record, “We stayed away from any roots tropes this time—no train beats, no twang, no Irish bits, very little acoustic guitar … It’s very much a high-energy band record with a big anthemetic sound. It feels edgy and urgent. There’s some horns and strings, some guest vocalists. We had a lot of fun making it.”
In the meantime, catch one of his upcoming shows in March featuring his Pogues tribute band K.M.R.I.A. (And what does that stand for, you say? Kiss My Royal Irish A**, a phrase used in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and in the Pogues’ song “Transmetropolitan”).
Thurs. March 15: K.M.R.I.A. – CENTRALIA, WA @ The Olympic Club 7pm $15
Fri. March 16: K.M.R.I.A. – SEATTLE, WA @ The High Dive 9:30pm 513 N 36th St.
Sat. March 17: The Norway Rats – PORTLAND, OR @ McMenamins Kennedy School Gym. 4 p.m. Free.
Sat. March 17: K.M.R.I.A. – PORTLAND, OR @ The Wonder Ballroom (Always sells out), 128 NE Russell St $13, Presented by Monqui with special guest SASSPARILLA
Fri. March 30: The Norway Rats – PORTLAND, OR @ The Aladdin Theater