Neko Case's live album The Tigers Have Spoken deserves credit just for being more than, as Camper Van Beethoven once put it, "greatest hits played faster." The Tigers Have Spoken operates in the tradition of The Who's Live At Leeds, Bob Seger's Live Bullet, and Cheap Trick's At Budokan, live albums that made reputations and advanced careers. Using The Sadies as her backing band, Case storms through 11 songs in just under 35 minutes, drawing on a set list dominated by covers. It's not a Case overview, but a standalone country-rock classic.
The only well-known original on The Tigers Have Spoken is "Blacklisted," which she delivers as a punch-drunk dirge. The other Case material includes two new songs (the gently jangling title track and the swirling "If You Knew") and the obscure "Favorite," a conventional cowgirl ballad with an ornate frame. The rest of the disc presents Case's take on songs made popular by the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie (the teary-but-brave "Soulful Shade Of Blue"), Loretta Lynn (the puckishly raging "Rated X"), and Freakwater's Catherine Ann Irwin (the aching, halting "Hex").
To date, Case's solo records have showcased her as a full-throated torch singer in tattered clothes, but her participation in the power-pop collective The New Pornographers demonstrates that she can rock when pressed. The Tigers Have Spoken finds a place between slow twang and electric jolt, and Case sways back and forth there, channeling Patsy Cline, Janis Joplin, and her alt-country peer Kelly Hogan all at once. In the record's best moment, Case and The Sadies (with Hogan singing backup) transform the oft-covered Shangri-Las song "Train From Kansas City" into transcendent pop with self-generating momentum. The song feels inhabited by a deeply human spirit, but untouched by human hands.