The official book on Neko Case has her born in Virginia, growing up all over North America (though staying in Tacoma just long enough to call it home) and leaving that home at 15. Now nearly 32, she still can't seem to decide where to settle down--Vancouver one minute, Chicago the next--but her third solo album, Blacklisted
, serves as proof that somewhere along the line she sat down for a few minutes. (How else are you going to learn how to play drums, guitar, write songs and sing them like absolutely nobody's business?) Right off the bat she lets us know she's "hunted by American dreams" (the folky, murky "Things That Scare Me"), and rarely is Blacklisted
without some ghost-town image or nagging, raw emotion. In "Deep Red Bells," Case paints her typical picture of classic country longing and drifter sentiment: "A handprint on the driver's side/It looks a lot like engine oil/And tastes like being poor and small/And popsicles in summer."
Case might be best known for lending her booming voice--given to belts, croons and every possible thing in between--to the New Pornographers' irrepressible power pop on 2000's Mass Romantic; she was the star attraction of "Letter From an Occupant," a three-and-a-half-minute pop masterpiece so relentlessly catchy there's no coming back from it. There's nothing quite like that on here, though she doesn't hesitate to sing the hell out of each and every syllable she comes across. Instead, Blacklisted is a twangy, gloomy look at a haunting, swampy landscape of bitter regret viewed from the window of a fast train ("Blacklisted") or over the wing of a small vintage airplane ("Lady Pilot"). She says it best on "I Wish I Was the Moon": "God bless me, I'm a free man/With no place free to go." It's a homesick album desperate for a place to be homesick about.