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Pop reviews — Week of Sept. 8

The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko Case

Neko Case has a neat name, a terrific Twitter account and a brazen, brassy alto. She could sing about kale and make it sound good.

But when it comes to songwriting, Case’s ambition exceeds her reach, and her magnificent voice can’t save the forgettable batch of tunes on The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Slight melodies, clunky chord changes and imponderable lyrics leave a listener with little to latch onto. It’s as if the composer is chasing so many ideas she can’t separate the good ones from the rest.

Case’s voice deserves better, but it occasionally rises above the muddle. A sassy delivery enlivens the feminist anthem Man and the sax-propelled Bracing for Sunday benefits from a hooky chorus. The final tune, Ragtime, is built on a simple rhythmic riff that provides a welcome jolt because of what’s come before.

The clearest message is delivered on Nico’s Afraid. When Neko covers Nico, Case shows how she can shine singing a delicate ballad — and material written by others.

— Steven Wine

Associated Press

The Telling Room: a Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese

Michael Paterniti

What makes a great cheese? The skill of the cheesemaker, the freshness of the raw milk, or perhaps the variety of grass and herbs the animals ate?

Michael Paterniti’s The Telling Room suggests one more secret ingredient: weaving all those elements into a story that’s savored just like the cheese itself.

But telling the story of Paramo de Guzman cheese turns out to be far more difficult than Paterniti ever expected. The book begins with a chance encounter more than 20 years ago: a passing reference to the semi-mythical cheese in a foodie newsletter. That turns into a plan to visit the tiny, remote Spanish town where the cheesemaker has mysteriously stopped making a product that kings and celebrities had praised.

Then the real story begins. Paterniti doesn’t just drop into the harsh but picturesque country­side to harvest some colorful dialogue. He moves to the village with his wife and two young children, and the story gets richer but murkier, too.

Was cheesemaker Ambrosio Molinos ruined by the betrayal of his best friend, or was he also just a terrible businessman? What’s behind some of the blood feuds of the Spanish Civil War era that literally left bones of innocents buried in the fields?

Along the way, Paterniti confronts his own doubts. Is he there to celebrate a legendary cheese, uncover wrongdoing, or soothe his own doubts about living in a modern world that praises slow food with a lifestyle that’s the opposite?

After more than 15 years of work, as the project is about to collapse in failure, Paterniti realizes he has one of the most precious storytelling elements of all: the perspective of time.

In the end, The Telling Room delivers a wealth of insights about Spain, food, friendship and the art of writing. The path might not be what you expected, but that makes the memories even richer, just like the surprises in a great meal.

— Kevin Begos

Associated Press

Meet Me at the Edge of the World

Over the Rhine

The Ohio-based husband-wife duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist (Detwiler grew up in Canton, and the pair met at Malone College) has long been making soul-nourishing music, and the richness only deepens in their new effort in collaboration with producer Joe Henry.

The edge of the world the duo seeks seems to be the nexus of body and spirit. In Called Home, Bergquist uses her gorgeous alto to describe a place “where evening shadows come to fall / on the awful and the beautiful / Every wound you feel that needs to heal.” Detweiler gets one of the best couplets on the record in the love song All Over Ohio when he reveals: “I still get shivers when I hear you singing down the hall/I’m gonna kiss you all over Ohio.”

It’s not exclusively an excursion into the ethereal — they give the body reason to move in the thumping Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body. But they also recognize the fact that “I’m living here on borrowed time.” As if to underscore the old-school ethic at work, the 19 songs are grouped into four batches labeled Side A, B, C and D, which is how they’re spread out over the vinyl double LP version. Over the Rhine seems to inhabit another time, one that sounds awfully appealing here.

— Randy Lewis

Los Angeles Times



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