I have always simply despised country music as a whole. So blatantly horrible. Every single twang and slide acting like a sledge hammer bashing repeatedly into my brain. Every single time I hear the annoying cheesiness of "honky tonk, badonk a donk" ringing in my ears I always get this great anger rising up inside of me that honestly puts me on the brink of destroying the nearest object that has the displeasure of crossing my path.
But as time progressed I began to understand what lies beneath the horrific pop-country hybrid that bombards the airwaves these days. With artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, and Patsy Cline...I grew an appreciation for it. It still wasn't quite my cup of tea but was something that I could take in and appreciate from an honest musical perspective.
However, there came a fateful day when all those misconceptions and slight appreciations would blossom into a full-fledged love and obsession. That moment arose when I first heard the most radiant and and overpowering vocal chords of a Ms. Neko Case. The moment I heard her voice cascade through my ear drums I instantly fell in love, for this was some of the most breathtaking music I had heard in quite some time.
"Blacklisted" was the first proper solo release for the New Pornographers member Neko Case. She had done previous work with that band, and a semi-solo effort backed by an alternative country band "Tabhe Sadies" in her project "Neko Case and her Boyfriends". While those releases were deeply rooted in country (and superb releases at that), this one takes a bit more of a stripped down alternative country approach, with bluegrass, folk, and much much more embedded within. It's truly a modern day musical landmark that doesn't deserved to be overlooked and forgotten about.
What really makes Blacklisted shine is the atmospheric approach, and the brutal honesty and emotion in Case's voice. Every single word that escapes from her mouth really seems to mean something, as if she is pouring her very heart and soul into every breath. And she really has truly impeccable song writing skills.
The album is epic and heartbreaking, yet uplifting all out the same time. The album has that "driving along on a warm summer night with no real direction" feel too it, and it all flows together intelligently and meticuously. Crafted to near-perfection.
It's hard not be drawn in by her magic, and it grabs a hold of the listener quickly with the opening track "Things that Scare Me", a well-crafted country rock track and her voice gently and perfectly singing the line "..haunted by American dreams" as the song comes to an emotional close and quickly runs into probably the best track she has ever written, the epic and beautiful "Deep Red Bells". Just hearing her belt out those three words in the chorus is enchanting and hypnotizing. Her voice manages to always stand well out from the rest of the music and is truly a treat to listen to. It goes from a mid-tempo gem to a country hoe-down about 3 minutes into the song and then magically flows right back to where it started without sounding awkward or forced.
"Outro with Bee's" has that distant feel to it, with the vocals sort of faded out in the distance and a few tinkles of piano and acoustic guitar pushing along a very stripped down track.
Other stand out tracks include the mesmerizing and beautiful "Pretty Girls", the vintage sounding country ballad "I Wish I was the Moon", and of course another perfect song "Runnin' Out of Fools". If this song doesn't simply blow you away, I doubt you have a soul whatsoever. A song that starts out so soothing and simple gets blown open when she belts "...is that why, you got in touch with me" Oh I guess you must be runnin' out of fools" with so much force and conviction it will give you goosebumps. It truly shows her vocal capabilities more than any song I have ever heard from her. A classic in every sense of the word.
And if you're looking for a haunting and melodic track, listen to the dramatic and western-esque "Ghost Wiring"...one which should give any mortal man the shivers upon listening. Truly breathtaking.
Overall, it's hard to take it all in once it's over. It's a joyride of heartache and loss, happiness and despair. Every single chord she plucks and the atmosphere added by the backing band seems to hit the right note every-time. Nothing sounds misplaced or awkward, everything crafted with the manner of a hard working woman who knows the exact direction and conviction she wants in her music. If only people would stop for just 40 minutes of their time and listen to something truly mezmerizing and wonderful, it would surely make your day better. As fan-boyish as I may sound, I say this because it's something that stays with you after listening, and will leave you begging for me. Neko Case is an icon for our time, if not for music in general, definately in the alternative country department.
Savor it my friends, for it is beautiful.