The drive to make ' THE summer album of (fill in the current year)' has motivated artists to write anthems about fast cars, partying and passionate romances that only last 12 weeks. Sheryl Crow, Nelly and Liz Phair all have released their "summer albums." The problem is that for many people, summer can be just as big of a bummer as the rest of the seasons; even more so for some people.
Thankfully, in 2002, Neko Case identified the need to create a summer-bummer album with Blacklisted. For those expecting to hear the sunny, pop-rocks sheen of her work with The New Pornographers, get ready for a shock. While The New Pornographers have the chance to be the Pixies of this decade, Neko Case's solo work is rooted in old-time country. Like her alt-country labelmate, Ryan Adams, Case grew up on a steady diet of punk before discovering country. Her punk tendencies have not gone unnoticed: she was banned from playing the Grand Old Opry for taking her shirt off during a sweltering set (her bra remained on).
Case recorded Blacklisted in Tucson. With a minimal arrangement, the album sounds like it was recorded in a canyon, which fits perfectly with the recurring themes of loneliness throughout the album. Her expansive voice sounds like a happy marriage between Patsy Cline and Fiona Apple. However, the best tracks ("Deep Red Bells," "Stinging Velvet" and her wicked cover of Aretha Franklin's "Runnin' Out of Fools") are the ones where she finds her own voice and sounds like no other singer out there today.
One of the biggest charms of Blacklisted is the hit-and-miss quality of the songwriting. On "I Wish I Was the Moon," Case's lyrics are devastating: "Paralyzed and collar tight/No pills for what I feel…," "How will you know if you'll find me at last/'cause I'll be the one with my heart in my lap." The lyrics may be simplistic, but she nails each word to make it sound deeply profound. Other times, such as in the title track, Case could have sharpened her songwriting skills ("Fast train, where do your passengers wait?"). The hidden track is a nice little touch, but like most hidden tracks, it's almost not worth fast-forwarding through the annoying dead space.
It's hard not to pigeonhole Niko Case into the alt-country category. Admittedly, Blacklisted is one of the best alt-country albums out there. But Case's voice and the arrangements of the tracks will likely win over many who couldn't give a crap about Ryan "don't call me Bryan" Adams. After listening, you know that Neko Case has what it takes to make a stone-cold classic album. In the track, "Stinging Velvet," Case sings about being enraptured by someone's "cold and shivering warmth." For those waiting for fall to start, Blacklisted's "cold and shivering warmth" is a comfort.