Neko Case hasn't had much need to prove her credentials as a major artist since making her solo debut with 1997'sThe Virginian, but she's been refining her skills in the recording studio on each subsequent release, and with 2006'sFox Confessor Brings the Flood she's fashioned an album that can cautiously be called a masterpiece. As always,Case's voice, an instrument of impressive strength, grace, and expressive power, is the star of this show, and she's never sounded better than she does here, but what sets this apart from her other fine work is her growth as a songwriter and producer. Case wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks on Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, and her tales of failed friendship, faith stretched to the breaking point, and love that causes as much ache as comfort are subtle and expressionistic but deeply evocative, conjuring images and feelings that linger long after the album has ended, especially the spectral "Star Witness," the moody yet romantic "That Teenage Feeling" and "Hold on, Hold On," and the darkly beautiful closer, "The Needle Has Landed." And Case and her co-producer, Darryl Neudorf, have assembled a superb cast of musicians to accompany these songs, among them members of the Sadies and Calexico as well asGarth Hudson of the Band, Howe Gelb from Giant Sand, and Kelly Hogan. Together they've sculpted a dozen elegant sonic landscapes that are beautiful and richly detailed while meshing with the moody textures of the songs in their open space and unwillingness to crowd either the singer or the other players. The cumulative effect mirrors both the beauty and the sadness that lurks within the human heart, and Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is a rich, mature, and deeply satisfying piece of music that deserves and demands attention -- if this isn't Album of the Year material, it's hard to say what is.