But the tired sighs turn to enthusiasm when he starts talking about his new album, Wig! (out June 29 on Yep Roc). It’s that replenishable spirit that ensures Case will never be a guy who used to play music.
“It’s like swinging through the jungle vine to vine,” says Case, 56. “It’s always one thing to the next.”
Wig! is the latest in a string of 14 solo albums beginning with his 1986 self-titled debut. But to the devout Case fan, it sounds like a gruff, unflinching embrace of every genre he’s ever tackled in his career. Trembling, bluesy guitar that permeates album opener “Banks of the River” and “Thirty Days in the Workhouse” are unmistakably akin to 2007s Grammy-nominated Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John. “Look Out!” is an ode to the ’60s soul Case grew up with and stayed with him on various solo records. You’ll even find shards of infectious power pop—lingering sounds that got him noticed in the ’70s as bassist for the Nerves and in the ’80s the leader of the Plimsouls (Remember their big hit “A Million Miles Away?” Well, you would if you heard it.).
The core value of Case’s music—famously heralded by legends as mammoth as Bruce Springsteen himself—lies in the stories and characters he creates. Many are vivid, lyrical sketches colored with keen observations, hard-lived autobiographical adventures on the road, even old tales from the streets of San Francisco where he landed after migrating from New York in the ’60s. Together with his gravelly soul and flat-pick guitar playing, Case’s weathered wisdom make their presence felt once again on Wig!
“I’m just trying to talk about life the way it is,” he says. “It might be a story about someone that’s in a difficult situation or it might be about somebody who’s extremely vulnerable or having a great time.”
Case remembers the songs for this record streaming out of him in December 2009, during recording sessions with longtime friend and musician Ron Franklin, who performed and co-wrote a decent chunk of the album. By the way, Case recorded all 10 tracks to old-school, analog tape in a little over a day.
“A lot of those things I wrote in the studio,” he says. “It was really fun and I was kind of inspired so I just caught it. It was one of those days where everything just cleared up [laughs].”
For those friends, fans and especially Case, the album was also a huge triumph in the wake of a major setback in his health last year. After undergoing open-heart surgery in January 2009, he was forced to spend some time away from music. It was a scare that reminded the aging folk rock legend that too much swinging from vine to vine can be a health hazard. Thankfully, after months of recovery time and a new album in his lap, Case emerges even wiser and more grateful for his ability to keep his career beating solid.
“As long as my health’s good enough to keep rockin‘ and I’m still enthusiastic about writing songs, I’ve still got something to give,” he says.
Peter Case at Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave. Claremont, (909) 624-2928; www.folkmusiccenter.com, www.petercase.com. Sat, June 26. 7:30PM. $15. All ages.