WITH A SOLID PUNK pedigree, but a serious country-western jones, singer-songwriter Neko Case is a lot of things to a lot of people. But to a cramped, sold-out crowd at a Minneapolis bar during her recent tour, she is simply too good for words. ?You guys are so quiet,? she says to the starstruck audience. ?You?re making me nervous.?
The Vancouver native recently released her third solo album, Blacklisted (Bloodshot), a ballad-laced collection that may spark a new wave of interest in the old country-western crooners Case reveres. The album casts a melancholy cloud as Case?s sexy voice swirls with banjos, steel guitars, and an upright bass.
It?s been a long, but not particularly strange trip from punk to country. Case, taught herself to play drums while attending the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design in Vancouver, and latched onto various punk bands, including Cub and Maow. Since then, she?s collaborated with artists from all over the United States and Canada, including the power-pop band New Pornographers and the Southern Americana duo Calexico. Eventually she started her own band, Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, which represented a sharp detour from rock into thick country-western balladry.
On her Web site (www.nekocase.com), she celebrates ?Neko?s Ladies,? a genre-busting collection of artists that includes Tina Turner, Ketty Lester, and Sheila E., as well as Bessie Griffin and her Gospel Pearl?s album Swing Down Sweet Chariot. ?I didn?t believe in God, and thought religion in general had no redeeming value, but those ladies convinced me I was too mortal to think that I could know for sure, no matter how punk rock I thought I was,? she says. ?They were a mighty superband, and I wish someone would re-release those old records.?
Of her own musicmaking, Case is a little less awestruck. ?It makes me feel like a legitimate person with an actual purpose,? she says.