It’s about time I finally talked about my first Neko Case album: Blacklisted! This was also Neko’s first full-length solo album. Of course, she’d been recording albums before that (with Her Boyfriends) and a was a part of a couple of other bands even before that (Cub and Maow). But Blacklisted was her first album credited just to herself.
I guess there’s a rumor that the album’s title came from the fact that she was banned for life from performing at the Grand Ole Opry after she took her shirt off on stage during a performance. It wasn’t an act of rebellion though – she was suffering from heatstroke. But what a story, huh?
Blacklisted was the album that sparked my love for Neko Case. You could even say it came from the moment I heard the opening track “Things That Scare Me.” I knew I was in for the long haul with this one. I’ve seen this album described as “country noir” and I think that aesthetic comes across most clearly on this track. I picture dusty desert ghost town, empty roads, and desperadoes. It’s easily my favorite track off this album.
I was still in love when I heard the next track “Deep Red Bells,” which was written about the Green River Murders. Neko was a teenager at the time the murders took place, and I remember reading somewhere that she used to take a knife to school to protect herself. Many of the victims were allegedly prostitutes, but that didn’t make a difference to a young Neko. It didn’t make a difference to a grown up Neko either. This song humanizes these women and wonders who they were and who they left behind.
The love doesn’t stop with “Outro With Bees.” This song is so weary and lazy and plaintive. It’s like a heartbreak on a hot summer day. My only complaint is that it’s too short! I couldn’t tell you how she could have made it longer though. Much like the relationship described in this song, it’s supposed to be fleeting.
“Lady Pilot” immediately conjures up images of Amelia Earhart for me: “We’ve got a lady pilot/She’s not afraid to die.” The imagery described in the song is great too: “Boulder City looks like coals in the fire.” It’s a fantastic ode to lady pilots everywhere. (By the way, I LOVE the guitar in this song.)
“Tightly”…oh, dear. “Tightly.” This is my least favorite song on this album – and my least favorite Neko Case song! It’s unfortunate. I just usually skip it. I don’t know, it’s just so plain-sounding and not very impressive. Who knows though? I say that now and then maybe one day I’ll have a change of heart.
“Look for Me (I’ll Be Around)” is a one of two cover songs, this one having been performed by Sarah Vaughan. It’s a haunting and alluring song – Neko sings it perfectly. The instruments in this are pretty quiet and minimal, which works great here. It sounds like it could be sung in a seedy bar at 2 in the morning.
“Stinging Velvet” is one of my other favorite tracks off this album. I really like the guitars here too! There are some fantastic lyrics in this track: “Water through my lashes/Look just like Christmas lights” and “Cold and shivering warm” are the stand outs for me.
Subject matter-wise, “Pretty Girls” is the heaviest song on this album. Simply put, it’s about girls at an abortion clinic. But like “Deep Red Bells” it’s incredibly sympathetic – so it goes without saying that it’s also pro-choice. My favorite lines, maybe because they ring so true, are “Wind your flimsy blue gowns tight around you/Around curves so comely and sinister/They blame it on you, pretty girls.”
“I Missed the Point” doesn’t impress me much. Neko’s voice sounds great at least. I much prefer the track that follows. That would be the title track “Blacklisted”! It’s some more of that country-noir. It makes me think of a ghost train in the middle of the night. Neko’s voice is so powerful here as she considers it.
And then we have “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Ohhh, my heart. I think I mentioned before that I never really cared for this song until I heard it in concert. I don’t know how or why that changed things, but now it’s one of my favorites. I love how quiet it starts and how it flares up slowly and then drops out again suddenly so that we can appreciate the last few notes of the song. It’s so emotionally heavy, I can’t help but feel my heart sink.
Next up we have another cover, “Runnin’ Out of Fools” as previously sung by Aretha Franklin, though I don’t remember hearing my parents play this one growing up. Anyway, Neko sings it great! She really knows how to belt out a note without having it overwhelm the song.
“Ghost Writing” – more country noir! You know, this one reminds me a lot of Sheryl Crow’s “The Book,” a seriously underrated song off her album of the same name. It’s not just the writing themes in the songs’ titles. They’re both very dark and spooky and bitter-sounding tracks. And just overall they sound very similar. Anyway, it’s a fantastic track and it stays with you after it ends. (Well, both of them do!)
Finally, we end with “Outro With Bees (Reprise)” which is the perfect track to come after “Ghost Writing” since it starts out with some unnerving radio static going in and out with various bits of tense dialogue and music. This goes on for almost half a minute, and then we get the reprise of that sad little song before it fades back out into white radio noise and fragments of music and commercials. Great, great, great final track.
Of her solo albums, Blacklisted is the most country of them all. If you want to cut your teeth on this genre but you’re unsure (next to rap, country tends to be the genre most people say they don’t like), then ease into it with some Neko Case and Blacklisted! It goes down easy and is a real treat for the ears. And to bring it back to Sheryl Crow, if you enjoy her early music, then I’m positive you’ll like Neko Case. So give it a go!