Neko Case - Blacklisted
Jan 9, 2019
88
Fantastic early record from Neko Case, which leans slightly more on the 'country' side of 'alt-country' when compared to her later releases. The songwriting is much more varied than on a record like Furnace Room Lullaby, gifting tracks like the pensive "Lady Pilot" or dazed-out "Outro With Bees" (which gets a clever radio reprise at the end of the record). She also tries her hand at a pair of jazz covers ("Look For Me," "Runnin' Out of Fools"), neither of which seem out of place nor beyond Case's skillset. And of course we need to mention "I Wish I Was the Moon," overall not one of Case's stronger ballads (certainly not better than "Set Out Running") but still a sweet calling card track that's become a staple in her repertoire.

I would say this album also marks where Case's lyrical subject matter starts to dive into darker social issues, including abortion ("Pretty Girls") and serial killer Gary Ridgway, who terrorized Case's home state of Washington when she was a child ("Deep Red Bells"). These songs, coupled with her slightly more obtuse instrumentation, easily paved the way for riskier but equally strong follow-ups like Middle Cyclone and The Worse Things Get.

The big sell of the album is, as always, Case's powerful voice, which appears here in peak form. "Deep Red Bells," "Blacklisted," and "Runnin' Out of Fools" all boast some of her strongest vocal deliveries, even when singing in the middle of her range. In less-capable hands, Blacklisted would still be an enjoyable record based purely on songwriting, but Case's vocal command is what helps bring it to the next level.
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