In the press release that accompanies Neko Case's 2004 live album, The Tigers Have Spoken, the singer (and her record company) insist quite strongly that this isn't meant to be a stopgap release on the way to her next studio project. To be blunt, Case protests a bit much on this issue -- an album featuring two re-recorded originals and five covers out of 11 tracks is carrying an awful lot of padding for something intended to be a proper "new" release. But if The Tigers Have Spoken is really intended to keep fans occupied until Case finishes her next project, she thankfully hasn't abandoned her standards of quality control along the way, and delivers some splendid music on this disc. Recorded over the course of three gigs in the spring of 2004, The Tigers Have Spoken features Case backed by fellow gifted Canadians the Sadies, whose web of deep, lonesome twang fits Case's repertoire like a glove, with Jon Rauhouse sitting in on pedal steel with his usual grace and flawless feel, and Kelly Hogan and Carolyn Mark contributing backing vocals that are little short of glorious. But the reason Neko Case is headlining over this stellar cast is because she has one of the finest voices to emerge from pop music in recent memory, and she's in firm command of her instrument on these performances. Allowing herself more room to rock than on 2002's Blacklisted, Case rips it up on covers of classic tunes by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Loretta Lynn, and the Shangri-Las, and "The Tigers Have Spoken" and "Hex" show Case isn't saving all her good new songs for the next album. Maybe Case is biding her time with The Tigers Have Spoken, but she sure isn't wasting it -- if it's a relatively minor effort, it still sounds like the work of a major artist, and there's lots of pleasure to be found in it.