Like any self-respecting alt-country artist, Neko Case would probably love to leave behind alt-country -- and the negative connotations the term's overuse has spawned -- for good. The well-deep voice that earns deserved comparisons with Patsy Cline has made it difficult for Case to escape the tag, but she was covering Scott Walker as far back as her 1997 debut, and she's been the female foil of Canadian alt-rock supergroup the New Pornographers for nearly a decade. Her fifth solo album places her squarely in the genreless no-man's land of the supremely confident artist: Drawn in equal measure from '60s pop, soul, and Nashville, it nonetheless manages to avoid both slickness and clichés.
But her insistence (or her publicist's, at least) that Fox Confessor is a collection of fables hints at its flaw. Steeped in the southern-gothic arcana that took Case's one-time touring partner Nick Cave a long time to outgrow, the album's Faulkneresque poetry makes some numbers -- "Dirty Knife," in particular -- nearly inscrutable. Her haunted voice fills in a lot of subtext, but a more direct approach could have brought this flood to many more parched souls.