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Review: Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, Goodbye to the Rank and File

Casey Neill and the Norway Rats
Goodbye to the Rank and File
[In Music We Trust (2010)]

Casey Neill and the Norway Rats might not travel too far from its Portland, OR home often, but Neill’s music certainly deserves to. The pedigree of his backing band is impressive: Jenny Conlee (of the Decemberists) and Chet Lyster (from the Eels and Lucinda Williams’s touring band) are regular members, and Scott McCaughey (a touring musician for R.E.M.) and Lisa Molinaro (from Talkdemonic) make guest appearances on the album. The quality of his writing is just as impressive.

Casey Neill’s voice has an undeniable Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) quality, with a world-weary drawl similar to Jay Farrar. The arrangements here are lush, drenched in spring reverb, with the guitars and vocals out front, and display a high level of sonic and thematic integrity. The term “alt-country” fits most of the disc to a tee, with the roots of alt rock and classic country in evidence. The band lists Richard Thompson as a strong influence on the album, as well as Hüsker Dü (they cover “She Floated Away”) and The Clash (“The Nightowl and the Skylark” is partly about Joe Strummer’s life), and even if it’s not immediately obvious, deeper listening reveals a similar love of drama and the slow burn, particularly on the chorus in the opener “All Summer Glory” and the closer, “Stonewall.”

“All Summer Glory” is a particularly remarkable track in that it’s pretty much a microcosm of everything you’ll feel listening to the record. It starts with fast minor chord strumming, with verses comprising pure 20-something defiance that shows off the band’s post-punk influences:

Running on the green steaming lawns
Chasing the last rays of sun all down the shoreline
Through the dog days and hot July nights
crickets the drumbeat fireflies the light fireflies the light
It’s our own kind of hallelujah, a river and a case of beer
The kind of piss that goes right through ya
we’ll take off outta here, we’ll take off outta here

Right before a tempo change with a soaring melody that sort of rips your heart out with it sudden beauty:

Tell me your name, tell me your story
Tell me of all your summer glory

Throughout, the band does a good job of showing off its influences without letting them take over. It’s simply another layer of emotional power in this collection of strong melodies and outstanding lyrics. [www.caseyneill.org]

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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