Neko Case

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The Virginian , 6/10
Furnace Room Lullaby , 6.5/10
Blacklisted , 7/10
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006), 6/10
Middle Cyclone (2009), 6.5/10
The Worse Things Get The Harder (2013), 5/10
Case/Lang/Veirs (2016), 4.5/10
Hell-On (2018), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Before becoming one of the most original voices of alt-country, Virginia-native and Tacoma (Washington) resident Neko Case got her training in an all-female punk-pop band called Maow, documented on The Unforgiving Sounds Of (Mint, 2009). However, Case later transformed into a country singer and started crooning and serenading with the coarse, gritty, passion of a Bruce Springsteen and the raw, drunken energy of cow-punks.

The autobiographical The Virginian (Mint, 1997), half devoted to covers, and Furnace Room Lullaby (Bloodshot, 2000 - Lance Rock, 2010), entirely written by her, are as noteworthy for their songs as for the impressive parades of guest appearances. The latter (featuring Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet's guitarist Brian Connelly, the New Pornographers' vocalist Carl Newman, the Sadies, Kelly Hogan), alternates catchy tunes (the soaring gospel-ish ode Set Out Running, the folk-rocking singalong Guided by Wire with a jangly instrumental break) and straightforward honky-tonk (Mood To Burn Bridges) with her emotional outpours (the martial dirge Lonely Old Lies, the vibrant howling funereal Furnace Room Lullaby, the twangy waltzing South Tacoma Way, the tender Bought and Sold).

The Corn Sisters were the duo of Neko Case and Canadian singer-songwriter Carolyn Mark that released The Other Woman (2000). Mark also released Party Girl (2000), Terrible Hostess (Mint, 2002), The Pros And Cons Of Collaboration (Mint, 2004) , Just Married (Mint, 2005), Nothing Is Free (Mint, 2007).

Case relocated to Chicago and joined the New Pornographers.

The EP Canadian Amp (Lady Pilot, 2002), recorded in her kitchen, is a stripped-down effort that features the usual cast of friends (Kelly Hogan, Robert Lloyd, Chris Von Sneidern, etc) and the usual dose of covers.

Blacklisted (Lady Pilot / Bloodshot, 2002) is finally an album of original material (except two covers). Case has matured both as a singer and as a songwriter and arranger.
She can also afford to round up a back-up band made of Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino, Giant Sand's Howe Gelb, Jody Grind's Kelly Hogan, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet's Brian Connelly and (drum roll) Mary Margaret O'Hara in one of her rare appearances.
Her alt-country fame is justified by the breezy bluegrass of Things That Scare Me, the solemn honky-tonk of Stinging Velvet, and the ethereal country of I Missed The Point (each a pretext to display her voice's stunning register), but her status as a creative auteur depends on the mood that her carefully crafted compositions forge.
Her subtle art is best displayed in Deep Red Bells, a sinister and suspenseful ballad over feverish rhythm that suddenly soars in a John Denver-ian anthem; or in I Wish I Was The Moon, that has the naive quality of the French singers of the 1960s (Francoise Hardy). Case intones the bluesy meditation of Pretty Girls in a register that recalls Grace Slick while guitar and bass pen an almost apocalyptic atmosphere, whereas the confessional style of Lady Pilot and Ghost Wiring evokes Joni Mitchell with a bolder, deeper voice. The ghost of Nick Cave rises from the slow, dark, tense, heavy, desolate Blacklisted and from Tightly's interplay of Connelly's ominous twang, swampy rhythm and pensive piano. Her vocal acrobatics help achieve a kind of drama that is simply out of reach for most musicians.

The Tigers Have Spoken (Anti, 2004) is a (mediocre and short) live album, that delivers two new songs: If You Knew and The Tigers Have Spoken.

On her way to becoming a much more conventional persona, more similar to a country singer and storyteller (and pin-up), Case displayed an uncanny talent at picking the right musical collaborators (the likes of Giant Sand's Howe Gelb, Jody Grind's Kelly Hogan, Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino, and even veteran Garth Hudson of The Band). They helped her fashion the simple but subtle songs of Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Anti, 2006), some distinguished by sophisticated vocal interpretations (Dirty Knife, an ancient-sounding folk lullaby that she turns into a child-like nursery-rhyme against martial strings, Maybe Sparrow, a vibrant psychological shout) and some highlighted by suspenseful settings (Hold On Hold On, with Ennio Morricone-ish twang and folk-rock-ish tinkling, Margaret Vs Pauline, drenched in a smoky lounge atmosphere). Her musical madness is kept at bay, surfacing mainly in the dissonant instrumental break of the otherwise monotonous Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (Howe Gelb on guitar), while the roots are ever more prominent (the orchestral country ode Star Witness, the yodel-ish and gospel-ish chant with barrelhouse accompaniment of John Saw That Number, the only traditional, the solemn elegy of Lion's Jaws, and the slow waltzing ballad That Teenage Feeling). The album is mostly an exercise in grand melody sung in a humble tone.

Middle Cyclone (Anti, 2009) featured guest appearances by M Ward, Giant Sand, Los Lobos' saxophonist Steve Berlin, the New Pornographers, Calexico and the Sadies and employed a plethora of home-made instruments. It was simultaneously her most private album and her most spectacular album yet thanks to the balance of storytelling and soundsculpting in This Tornado Loves You (that alternates frantic strumming/drumming and pauses while the vocals shout and hardly modulate the melody), People Got A Lotta Nerve (that releases a catchy refrain amid breezy drumming and jangling guitar tapestry), Polar Nettles (that turns a vaudeville-style pace into a dramatic atmosphere), Middle Cyclone (that drops a whispered lullaby into a music-box atmosphere), The Pharaohs (that evolves her favorite waltzing tempo into a smooth counterpoint for her undulating chant), and especially I'm An Animal (that sets her post-blues and post-country shout against Velvet Underground-ian tribal beat). Her voice keeps getting more and more effective, and alone can drive intellectual rants such as Magpie To The Morning and Prison Girls. The arrangements (mostly by Jon Rauhouse and Paul Rigby) are tasteful and elegant, with just a hint of her past eccentricity.

The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight The Harder I Fight The More I Love You (Anti, 2013) has way too much filler. Too bad because at the beginning she embraces a shiver-inducing stately composure: Wild Creatures could be one of Grace Slick's solemn psychedelic hymns, and the saloon waltz Night Still Comes exudes both grit and hope. Two disappointing rockers Man and City Swans (much better the swaggering Bracing for Sunday) and an a-cappella vignette (Nearly Midnight, Honolulu) prove that her stylistic range is wide, and in fact it extends further than ever: Where Did I Leave That Fire? falls somewhere between atonal jazz and trip-hop, and Ragtime is a slow elegy for late-night chanteuse with an exuberant horn fanfare. Both prove that Case could do well with much more ambitious material.

Neko Case, KD Lang and Laura Veirs collaborated on the mediocre Case/Lang/Veirs (2016) that contains Case’s Delirium and Supermoon.

Neko Case's Hell-On (Anti, 2018), produced by Bjorn Yttling (of (of Peter Bjorn & John), was the most arranged of her career so far. It opens with the odd metaphysical manifesto of Hell-On set to a polka tempo that is more appropriate for a musichall skit. The driving Last Lion Of Albion boasts the best accompaniment in the album: an eccentric locomotive-like groove of drums and guitar met by harmony vocals courtesy of KD Lang and a bit of electronica. The accompaniment of the seven-minute singalong Curse Of The I-5 Corridor, a duet with Mark Lanegan, grows from a stately piano solo to a noisy rock jam that eventually drowns everything else. Her romantic ballad Gumball Blue feeds on a steady beat and synthetic strings like synth-pop, and ends in orchestral mode (a path somehow reminiscent of John Lennon's A Day in the Life). The horror atmosphere of My Uncle's Navy is oddly matched to a dance beat but with bouts of guitar distortion. The whispered chamber lied Pitch Or Honey seems to veer towards electronic music, but midway it picks up a boogie rhythm and becomes a splendid tribute to herself circa Furnace Room Lullaby. As a singer, she shows that the spunky country girl has become a much more nuanced vocalist, almost evoking Grace Slick in Halls Of Sarah (with a solo of baritone sax) and in the martial flamenco-flavored crescendo of Dirty Diamond. Two or three songs make no sense (for example, a cover of Eric Bachmann's Sleep All Summer in the form of a duet with him, or the country-pop single Bad Luck with harmony vocals a` la girl-groups of the Sixties), but mostly the album is cohesive and entertaining, if not particularly emotional.

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