Rating (9.1)

Neko Case has always been a musician I admired, but from a cool distance. When Fox Confessor Brings the Flood came out, that admiration grew, but something still wasn't clicking. Then came Middle Cyclone.

Cyclone is a perfect combination of haunting vocals, acoustic folk roots, and country twang. Case has enlisted the likes of Garth Hudson (of The Band) as well as M. Ward, and Sarah Harmer to create one whimsical folk album built for the backroads. She's even thrown few covers ("Never Turn Your Back on Mother Nature", "Don't Forget Me") into the mix.

Right off with "This Tornado Loves You", Case showcases her polished songwriting skills as she highlights the journeys of a tornado looking for its lost love. In "Vengeance is Sleeping" she mourns over the pressures of marriage in a small town: "If you're not by now dead and buried, you are most certified being married."

Other standout tracks include the "Fever" which shows Case peeping on death, exclaiming "my dove is home, my breast is warm", and the Calexico-esque ballad, "The Pharaohs."

But the catchiest of them all, "People Got a Lotta Nerve" where, in the spirit of Nelly Furtado and Hall & Oates before her, Case admits to being a "man-man-man eater." Having already performed the Johnny Marr-esque romp on Jay Leno, it's a surefire hit.

Cyclones ends beautifully, with a heavy drum beat, staccoto guitar, deep basslines, squelching horns, and charming piano interjections. The song builds up to the chorus where she belts "I want to go back and die at the drive-in, die before strangers can say 'I hate the rain'." This is the followed by nearly a half-hour's worth of outdoor ambience; a whirlwind of crickets, birds and frogs, sucking you in to a warm summer's night in the country.

Middle Cyclone would be a crowning achievement for any singer-songwriter: a perfect blend of beautiful crafted instrumentals and nostalgic country storylines. This is an album to fall in love with, if not a soundtrack to fall in love to, whether it be with someone or something: nature, the country, life.