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Making the case for Neko

By Robert Woolridge, March 1998

Though her arrival on the country music scene appears to some to be unorthodox, punker Neko Case put out a terrific album recalling the legacy of such trailblazers as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson.

Originally released in Canada last August, Case's debut, "The Virginian," featuring her band the Boyfriends, was released in the U.S. on Bloodshot in February.

Hailing from Alexandria, Va., Case was first exposed to country music by her grandmother. "I didn't realize it when I was a little girl," Case recalls, "but it was really important to see women like Loretta and Dolly - successful women who wrote their own songs and took a powerful emotional stance on things."

Case went through a period in her teens when she drifted away from country into punk rock, but has since regained new appreciation for country music. "When I was about 17, punk rock, aside from The Cramps and X, had become way too macho. It just wasn't a place where I was getting any satisfaction."

After spending much of her early adulthood in Tacoma, Wash., Case has been in Vancouver, British Columbia for the last four years attending arts school and playing with MAOW, a punk band also signed to Mint.

"The thing I deal with the most is the fact that I play drums in a punk band," Case says, pointing out that it should not surprise people that someone has diverse tastes in music.

The authentic country sound of "The Virginian" should establish Case's credibility as a sincere country performer. Though elements of her other influences are in evidence, the result is pure country.

Case is thoroughly convincing on Ernest Tubb's "Thanks a Lot" and Loretta Lynn's "Somebody Led Me Away." Particularly effective is her cover of the Everly's "Bowling Green."

"I totally worship the Everly Brothers," Case says. "And the Louvin Brothers. Any brothers. There's something about people who sing with each other since they were little kids. It's really spooky."

On her originals Case is equally adept on ballads or up-tempo rockabilly. Comparisons to Cline are unavoidable on "Lonely Old Lies," "Jettison" and the title track.

Wanda Jackson's imprint is clear on "Honky-Tonk Hiccups" and "Caroline," with a hard edge also showing traces of her punk influence.

"The Virginian" has been getting good airplay in Vancouver on college radio and the CBC. With wider distribution in the U.S. on Bloodshot, the album should find a home on Americana radio, though it's likely too traditional for mainstream country radio.

However, Case remains hopeful about the future of country music.

"I'm pretty optimistic about it really. I get mad about 'new country' radio and how they won't have anything to do with us, but the fact is that 'new country' isn't really country music, and I shouldn't even care."

Case bears no ill will towards the artists who record 'new country' - she just doesn't want them to call it 'country.' "I don't want to be an 'alternative' country band. I want to be a country band. I want my grandma to come see me play at the Grand Ole Opry."

While she fears the Opry is not as accessible as it once was, Case acknowledges that "they still honor old country and hold to their roots." So an invitation to the Opry would not be surprising.

In the immediate future, Case will graduate in April with a fine arts degree and looks forward to a major U.S. tour this summer. She will begin recording her next album in August. She's been practicing her yodeling, but says it will be "hard to live up to people like Don Walser - we'll see how I do."

But there is one lingering question. In her liner notes she promises to do a George Jones tune on her next record, of which she is frequently reminded.

"It's going to be quite a task deciding which George Jones song to do," Case muses.