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Neko Case - Blacklisted

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Artist: Neko Case

Album: Blacklisted

Label: Bloodshot

Review date: Sep. 9, 2002

A Remarkable Case

Without having the slightest idea what it was, a minute and a half into the second song, this reviewer knew, just knew, that Neko Case’s Blacklisted would have a place on his top ten list for the year. And further listening for a few weeks only proved the point.

Neko Case has been somewhat of a cult artist, known to a discerning few. On this release she reveals a voice like rockabilly filly Wanda Jackson’s might sound if it had been cured in a clear mountain stream, a gift for big-sky minor-key Marty Robbins-style melody, and poetic lyrics that shiver like a cool breeze would in the kudzu-draped world of the second and third R.E.M. albums.

Blacklisted rings with lost voices and strange journeys, and does a better job of balancing hope, innocence, and darkness than just about anything I’ve heard in a while. There’s something about Case’s Nancy Sinatra-as-Huck Finn persona that works perfectly to deliver these dream-like, countrified roadscapes with grace and honesty.

Some of the credit must go to the efforts of the Burns-Convertino crew at Tucson’s Wave Lab studio: the production and arrangements, rich in twangy, noir-ish baritone guitars and slightly over-driven steel, surround the singer with a nice Lee Hazlewood-Billy Strange desert vibe and just the right amount of folk-rock chime-and-strum guitar. She sounds relaxed and open throated, and the closely mic’ed recording style on most of the vocals lends the songs an alluring intimacy.

Americana has become a buzzword in pop and rock music in the last few years, of course, and the roots-return has ranged from jazzer Bill Frisell to Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Mostly, this has been a positive movement, and, I would suspect, a bit of a backlash against a music industry that has become amazingly adept at force-feeding the public with pre-marketed entertainment.

There are still clear-flowing streams and rivers out there, thank God. And Blacklisted is a river that keeps sounding a little different every time I listen. If I were allowed to let the record producer in me have its way, I would do only one thing to change this album: I think a couple of instrumental tracks might add some welcome contrast to a record on which the singer's sometimes big voice is up-front on every track.

That’s a small quibble though, and the truth is I’m glad in these strange times to listen to a record as spellbinding as Blacklisted.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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