When the reception to her phone returns, Neko Case shouts, "Wow, a worm ranch!" The indie-country chanteuse and New Pornographers collaborator
gasps at the sight through a tour bus window and puts her interview on hold to take it in. "It's a huge building. I didn't know these existed." Her giddiness is charming, and it's something fans might not expect from the songwriter behind 2002's Blacklisted
, whose odes to failed romance dwell on stalkers and suicidal pilots. It's also strange to hear Case's soulful, sticky-sweet voice--which can turn any song into a heartbreaker--gush about worms. But Case explains her fascination with nature is all over her newest songs, from the tiger-loving title track on last year's live album, The Tigers Have Spoken
, to a brand-new live favorite, "Baby Sparrow," which will appear on an as-yet-untitled studio album due in March 2006. "It's not really on purpose," Case says, "but I have a big thing for birds and just animals in general. There's a weird folklore aspect to it." To ease the wait for what she calls her most autobiographical album yet, which includes guests like The Band's Garth Hudson, the lovely, redheaded Case brings a full band to town on Monday for her first Dallas concert in nearly six years. "It's not that we don't like Dallas--it's just that nobody comes to the show," Case says, although her rise as a critics' darling in the past half-decade should possibly draw a bigger crowd this time. Fifty-seven-year-old country-rocker Johnny Dowd opens.