UNITED STATES - Listening to these records by two of America's most distinctive singers, you recall the words of speculative fictionist N.K. Jemisin: "In a child's eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way."
Motherhood is a tough topic to write about without getting mopey - so it's credit to indie tough cookie Neko Case and troubadour Laura Veirs that they don't sugarcoat it at all.
Case wrestles with it head-on in Nearly Midnight, Honolulu, the standout track of her sixth album. She had witnessed a mother-daughter exchange while waiting for a bus in Hawaii. It was so harrowing, she sang it without music.
"Get the f*** away from me! Why don't you ever shut up!" she dishes the killer line from the mother's standpoint.
By the end, she addresses the child: "Some days you'll feel like a cartoon… please, kid, have your say/Cause I'll still love you/Even if I don't see you again."
The track sums up the singer's inner turmoil. In the last few years, she fell into deep depression as her family members died: First, the death of her grandmother, followed by the deaths of her own parents, whom she was estranged from.
The results are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, an unremitting rack of confessionals that drags wounds over embers.
In the opening track, Wild Creatures, she proffers an ambivalent line: "When you catch the light/You look like your mother/It crushes me some/Just right from the side."
The music, initially an easy swing of limber guitars and drums, erupts into a tempest.