Newly Chicago-based singer Neko Case possesses one of those voices that makes itself the center of whatever musical setting it inhabits. When she sang "Letter from an Occupant" on the 2000 debut album by the Canadian indie-pop supergroup the New Pornographer, her throaty alto almost trampled the nerdy guys with guitars and drums rocking out behind her.
On her third solo album, Case gives herself the room her singing requires: she cut the record in Tucson with desert-noir romantics Calexico providing some ace instrumental help, and the songs all sound as wide open as the parched Southwestern landscape, heavily reverbed guitars hanging in the air like the blistering heat and shuffling percussion blowing through like stray tumbleweeds. Case fills the space marvelously: she outslinks a svelte vibraphone line on "Look for Me (Iíll Be Around)" and soars over a pastoral waltz on "I Wish I Was the Moon." And her songs mostly support the stylized readings, especially when she reaches for a poetic spin on role model Loretta Lynnís "Coal Minerís Daughter." "It looks a lot like engine oil and tastes like being poor and small and popsicles in summer," she sings in the darkly radiant "Deep Red Bells." Gorgeous, visceral stuff.
(Neko Case plays the House of Blues in Harvard Square on September 28. Call 617-497-2229.)