Casey Neill and the Norway Rats: Goodbye to the Rank and File

The Norway Rats are the all-stars of Pacific NorthWest folk-punk musicians: Casey Neill (vocals, guitar), Little Sue (vocals, acoustic guitar), Chet Lyster (guitar), Ezra Holbrook (drums), Hanz Araki (vocals, flute), Jesse Emerson (bass), and Jenny Conlee (piano, accordion), and Goodbye to the Rank and File, the first Norway Rats record to feature the complete line-up of the band all in the same place at the same time, is the West Coast-centered follow-up to the more New York-oriented Brooklyn Bridge (2007).

True confession: Two of the songs on this record -  Guttered and Stonewall – were already old and familiar friends of mine, met some time ago on a podcast. I was nonetheless pleased to see them formally released into the wild, not least because now I can listen to them on their own whenever I want.  I’m particularly fond of Guttered because it is really satisfying and/or comforting to listen to on cold, wet days, when it feels like you’re watching your life go by from the bottom of a hole. Or, to borrow from the lyrics, if you are wandering in a graveyard in the snow -  in your mind or for real.

As for the rest, I have spent a couple of days listening (and humming random bits of melody to myself odd times) and pondering how to describe them. What I finally came up with was “Hymns (and Lovesongs) for The Vagabond Heart.” All of the songs are strong; my personal favorites (as of right this minute) are  Idyll and When I Came To You. These two songs encapsulate the trials, travails and also sublime joys of wandering, and how the joys can be amplified by having someone to wander with, and the ache of the trials and travails eased by finding a place to to finally stop and be at home. Nightowl and the Skylark, based in part on Joe Strummer’s life, is also achingly beautiful.

But really the most important thing I can tell you about this record is: it is meant to be savored. Clear an hour in your schedule, turn off your phone, pour yourself a drink, find some sunlight to sit in, then sit back and listen to them sing some stories.

Here’s a taste of the treat you are in for:

Casey Neill and the Norway Rats "Guttered" live in Seattle at the High Dive 1/13/11

Also important: they are still out on the road in the West, stopping in Albuquerque, NM tonight before progressing on to Arizona, Colorado and Utah during the rest of the week. They’ll also be playing some Pacific NorthWest shows in May; you can find all of the details at Casey Neill’s official website.

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