First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2002, Volume 9, #11
Written by T.J. Simon
Whether she is making her own brand of alt-country music or recording with the power pop group The New Pornographers, Neko Case has a voice thatís hard to match in music today. When she belts out a tune, it sounds like a cross between Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline, and Wanda Jackson. On her first two solo outings The Virginian and Furnace Room Lullaby, Case established herself as one of the most mature and wickedly entertaining women in alternative country music. But on last yearís eight- song EP Canadian Amp, Case shifted gears and instead offered fans a more ethereal and moody style of performance. It now appears as if this was a test of sorts, given that this is the same format she utilizes for her new Bloodshot Records release Blacklisted.
Blacklisted begins with the atmospheric, Appalachian-influenced number Things That Scare Me, wherein multiple layers of guitars evoke images of driving fast on a dark and rainy deserted road. On this track and throughout the disc, Caseís vocals are haunting and haunted. The production is heavy on vocal reverb, making her sound like she is singing into a deep well or in an empty gymnasium. On her version of Ketty Lesterís Look for Me (Iíll Be Around), the sadness in Caseís voice is tangible and contagious, and the lyrics on Caseís own Pretty Girls are vivid and intelligent. The highlight of the album is Caseís cover of Aretha Franklinís Runniní Out of Fools which is fired out with heart-wrenching soul.
This is Americana torch music ó more western than country ó with guitars reminiscent of Wall of Voodoo (particularly on Deep Red Bells) and arrangements copped from the scores of creepy David Lynch films. The depth of the instrumentation on Blacklisted is courtesy of Caseís very talented support band, which features members of The Sadies, Calexico, and Giant Sand as well as Jon Rauhouse on pedal steel. Together, they make even the most uninteresting numbers on Blacklisted (Tightly and I Missed the Point) palatable.
In reality, however, itís not necessarily the songs themselves that are the problem. Itís that Blacklisted as a whole gets dull due to the repetitive nature of the tunes' tempos, which march along with precisely the same cadence and structure. Case would have been wise to shake things up by throwing in a few barn burners to break up all this melancholy. Fans of her prior albums will probably enjoy Blacklisted just fine, but save for the most downtrodden and depressed, newcomers should give any of her other efforts a spin before investing in this one. Ĺ
Blacklisted is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box