PETER CASE

"Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile? Selected Tracks 1994-2004"

Vanguard

BILL MALLONEE

"Dear Life"

Fundamental/Meat Market

On Jan. 9, 1984, having just disbanded his celebrated new-wave group the Plimsouls, Peter Case plunged into his solo career with an acoustic singer-songwriter show at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif. Case may have unplugged his amplifier, but he had abandoned neither the Plimsouls' rhythmic punch nor their pop-hook choruses; all he had done was shine more light on his underrated lyrics. This new approach fit him so well that on Jan. 9, 2004, he was still pursuing it. He was back at McCabe's, giving his autobiographical song "Crooked Mile" a pounding beat on his acoustic guitar and a world-weary vocal as he vowed to stay on the road, no matter how crooked.

That performance provides both the centerpiece and the title to Case's new 16-song anthology, "Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile? Selected Tracks 1994-2004." There are 13 songs from his last four Vanguard albums, plus the live track and two newly recorded studio numbers. The first new track, "Wake Up Call," a rocking protest number, responds to the quagmire in Iraq with a Dylanesque torrent of words, while the second new song aims its challenge at Case's fellow baby boomers, bemoaning "My Generation's Golden Handcuff Blues." This collection contains nothing from the Plimsouls, from Case's three terrific solo albums on Geffen or from his imaginative remakes of old blues songs, but it does make the convincing argument that Case is one of the major singer-songwriters of the past 20 years.

Like Case, Bill Mallonee launched his solo career after leading a band more beloved by critics than the record-buying public. Since leaving the Vigilantes of Love, Mallonee has made solo albums as different as the garage-folk-rock of 2002's "Fetal Position" and the psychedelic-pop of last year's "Perfumed Letter." This year's "Dear Life" depicts a campfire singalong on the front cover and Mallonee in a cowboy hat on the inside booklet, and the music resembles the sweetened country-rock of Neil Young's "Harvest" album.

That sound takes the edges off Mallonee's peculiar tenor and fits his musical meditations on a love that is both unreliable and indispensable. On "High . . . and Lonesome," he acknowledges that he longs to shout out, "I love you, girl," but he's afraid that such a declaration is "too close for most, one brick shy of grandiose." After all, he adds, how much can we rely on love when it gets us high and leaves us lonesome? But "After All This Dust Settles Down," he sings on another song, "after all the towers have fallen," you're going to "need a lover and a little bit of cover."

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Sunday at Jammin' Java. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Peter Case, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8102; to hear Bill Mallonee, press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)