Whenever alt-country chanteuse Neko Case releases a new record, its natural to wonder if the next album will measure up to the nearly flawless body of work that preceded it. There are very few musicians out there whove never released a clunker, and for years, Neko Case has been part of that elite group. With every record, Neko Case has managed to cover different lyrical and sonic terrain-- from the honky-tonk country of debut album The Virginian to the soulful gospel pop of 2006 release Fox Confessor Brings the Flood with finesse and precision. But with Middle Cyclone, Case seems to have faltered for the very first time in her distinguished career. At its very weakest, Cases music is still a delight, but theres no denying that Middle Cyclone borrows many of the same ideasand even a few similar melodiesfrom songs shes written before. Repetitive choruses and monotonous melodies plague the records weakest tracks. And yet, Cases voice soars above and beyond any of those shortcomings, striking doubters down like the hand of God smiting the wicked.