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Neko Case: Blacklisted

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Neko Case's second solo album, 2000's Furnace Room Lullaby, proved she could sing country music with a directness and a forcefulness that had long since gone out of style. Though she started out in punk, and still takes the occasional detour as part of the great power-pop band New Pornographers, Case has a voice so soaked in the nuances of country music that she might well have been born to sing it. The new Blacklisted brings in a torch to accompany the twang. The album was recorded in Arizona with assistance from members of Giant Sand and Calexico, in addition to old friends in The Sadies and others. The results drip atmosphere: The songs are spectral, yearning, and a bit opaque, the kind of music appropriate for a bar in which everyone has had a few and feels no better for it. Eerie vibes wrap around a reverbed guitar and a skittery drum track on Case's cover of "Look For Me (I'll Be Around)," one of the few songs not penned by Case herself, and one of a handful to sound like a collaboration with David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti. Blacklisted's songs capture a mood in which lovesickness can turn fatal, and images of those "murdered on the interstate" stand in for a certain frame of mind. There's a lifetime of regret lurking in the background of the cautionary "Pretty Girls," and a sense of inescapable doom invested in the title track. The tone never grows oppressive, however, thanks to Case's ability to make even the most predetermined tragedy sound like a drama still unfolding, as well as her music's tendency to set sadness to a hummable tune. Whatever the modern flourishes, nothing could be more traditionally country than that.