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Friday October 31, 2014
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Neko Case

 

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Patsy Cline: a singer with a full, strong voice who knows how to rock but turns to country for an older, purer way to sing about love and despair and hard-won moments of grace.

A year and a half ago I drove to Ann Arbor to see Neko at the Blind Pig. I'd wondered what she'd look like in person, since the pictures on the CD cover made her an enigma: Neko dolled up as a vampy film-noir bad girl, Neko as the glassy-eyed murder ballad victim from the title song. I imagined she'd look beautiful, but she came on stage sleepy from a road-trip nap on the tour bus, with no makeup and a drowsy look around her eyes.

She pushed her voice to the edge on everything she sang, contorting her face to wring all she could out of the song, leaving behind any desire to keep composed and look pretty. It was like watching Janis Joplin sing, but where Janis screamed into the songs, trying to shred them, Neko reached for each note clearly, precisely, finding the ache and dignity within it. She and her band made their way through her tragic ballads, angry twangy rockers, and hopeful love songs — most of them in 3/4 time, country waltzes you'd dance to with a lover just before saying good-bye.

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