Neko Case

    The Virginian (Bloodshot, 1997)
     Furnace Room Lullaby (Bloodshot, 2000)
     Blacklisted (Bloodshot, 2000)
      Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-, 2006)
     Middle Cyclone (Anti-, 2009)

The Corn Sisters     The Other Women (Mint, 2000)

A teenage punk-rocker turned alt-country chanteuse, Neko Case was born in Alexandria, VA, and raised mainly in Tacoma, WA. She spent the mid-Nineties attending art college in Vancouver, B.C., where she met the future members of the terrific power-pop combo the New Pornographers, as well as Carolyn Mark, with whom Case would form the duo the Corn Sisters. (That group's The Other Women is a loose album consisting mostly of covers.) On her own, though, Case is the most arresting female alt-country singer of all time.

The Virginian, her debut, is heavy on covers, mostly country (Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn) but with a nod toward rock-hipster tastes with its version of Scott Walker's "Duchess." Furnace Room Lullaby is even more assured, and features the great "Thrice All American," a tribute to Tacoma ("I wanna tell you about my hometown/It's a dusty old jewel in the south Puget Sound") that's become a theme song of sorts for Case. Blacklisted turned down the twang and cranked up the noir, bringing to mind a more down-home k.d. lang or an updated, David Lynch-ian Patsy Cline, particularly on the two cover tunes, Ketty Lester's "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," and Aretha Franklin's "Running Out of Fools." Just as impressive are Case's own songs, particularly the haunting "Deep Red Bells," written about the Puget Sound's infamous Green River Killer.

Recorded at three club gigs in Chicago and Toronto in the spring of 2004, The Tigers Have Spoken proved Case's pipes are just as startling in a concert setting as they are in the studio. Although revved-up rockers like "Loretta" seemed a little out of place among more nuanced fare like "If You Knew" and a gorgeous take on Freakwater's "Hex," the album certainly raised expectations for Case's next long-player.

Fox Confessor Brings the Flood more than delivered. For the first time, Case transcended her influences, and her impossibly clear voice brought life to her best batch of originals to date. Strident, moody reminiscences ("Hold On, Hold On," "The Needle Has Landed") and noir-ish love songs (the title track, the coulda-been-played-at-a-1950s-prom "Teenage Feeling") won Case a ton of new fans.

It was no surprise, then, that Middle Cyclone debuted at a career-best Number Three on the Billboard 200. Utilizing nature as an overarching theme with which to explore emotions and relationships and following roughly the same sonic template from Fox Confessor, Case shined bright on tracks like the gently chugging "Magpie to the Morning" and the horn-flecked "Red Tide." A voice this glorious doesn't come around too often — and it's a treat to hear Case contnuting to put it to such good use.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

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