The Corn Sisters, The Other Women (Mint Records, 2000)

The Corn Sisters were a short-lived country/folk duo in the late nineties, featuring Canadian Carolyn Mark and American Neko Case. The Other Women is a live album that was recorded at a small club in Seattle in 1998. Mark continues to have a respectable career as a folksinger in Canada, but Case was one of the very best artists of this past decade. The album is noteworthy for capturing Neko Case well before her career took off.

The Other Women mixes original songs (mostly by Mark) with covers of people like Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams and folk standards like "This Little Light of Mine." The instrumentation is sparse, consisting of an acoustic guitar and very light percussion. Mark comes across as being the more experienced and polished performer at the time, but Case's voice predictably takes the spotlight. Her lead vocals on Dave Lang's "She's Laving Town" and the country ballad "Long Black Veil," and her mournful wailing in the background on Mark's "Matinéed," are simply breathtaking; the recording equipment may not have been state-of-the-art, but the power in Case's voice comes through as clear as crystal. Case has moved a little bit away from her country roots in recent years, but The Other Women nicely reflects the foundations of Case's style. The snippets of between-song banter and songs like the upbeat but goofy "Corn on the Cob" (from which I'm guessing the duo took their name) reflect the quirky sense of humor that has come to characterize Case's live performances -- although to be fair, Mark was an equal participant in this.

Indeed, the problem with looking back on an album like this where one of the performers has become a star (at least in the indie and alternative sense of the word), and the other continues to perform at similar small venues, is that it's hard to be fair to the lesser-known performer. Carolyn Mark comes across as a likable singer, with a fun sense of humor, good taste in covers, and at least a decent songwriting ability. Neko Case has proven to be more than that, though, and while they may have been on equal footing at the time, the pronounced difference in raw talent is impossible to miss.

On its own terms, The Other Women is a pretty good no-frills country/folk recording from a pair of capable young artists. Fans of the subsequent work of either performer should like this recording, and people interested in Neko Case's history will find it well worth their while.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

A photo montage set to "Corn on the Cob"

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