In March 1986 I remember walking into Caroline Music on Royal Avenue and seeing two new releases by new artists on the wall; Steve Earle and Peter Case. I took a chance. It was a good day's investment with returns still going on today! Case’s record was produced by one of my favourite songwriters of the time T-Bone Burnett. Of course I was going to love it.
Three years later there was an even better record with the longest of titles - The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar. This album is a long time favourite full of great songs that mixed blues, folk and classic songwriting full of poetic images, memorable lines and unforgettable characters.
You can tell I was Peter Case fan. I even went to my first Greenbelt keen convinced by the opportunity of seeing Brice Cockburn and Peter Case.
I need to confess that in the past 15 years I didn’t give Case as much time as I used to. I didn’t even buy Wig his last record in 2010 - sorry Peter!
When I heard HWY 20 was coming out my attention was caught again. Then I somehow missed the release at the end of 2015. This past week I got my hands on it and am I glad I did.
This record sits with all Peter Case’s best work. It has a similar sound and production of those first solo releases. Driven guitar songs, this man can play and even adds the genius of Ben Harper to the mix. Goodness. The arrangements and production is as urgent as Case has been for decades and so it should be as this man has some serious things to say.
The best way I can describe HWY 20 is that I feel the whole way through it that I am right bang bang in the middle of what Jesus spoke about when he told us that his followers would be visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry etc. Pelican Bay is about the ridiculous amount of people in American prisoners, mostly black. The deep slow blues sadness of Living Water, with one of many sneaky Biblical images, has a 6 year old refugee in front of a judge being turned away from America. These are songs for the least of these.
It’s all so creative musically and lyrically. It’s cram packed with memorable thoughts. It packs a challenge. Had I caught on to it last year it would have been challenging Glen Hansard for my album of the year.