Beyond Country

NEKO CASE & HER BOYFRIENDS opening for NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS at Kool Haus (1 Jarvis), Sunday (April.


NEKO CASE & HER BOYFRIENDS opening for NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS at Kool Haus (1 Jarvis), Sunday (April 28). $25.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN

neko case has a problem. afterspending the past three months crafting her forthcoming Black Listed album in Arizona and Los Angeles, the brassy belter has just discovered an engineering glitch, which means the recording will need to be remixed and remastered. Case knows that if she were on a major label, the technical trouble would be somebody else’s problem and she would probably be lounging around her Chicago home instead of schlepping the masters to Toronto to ensure the studio fix is done correctly.

Yet the self-confessed control freak has learned to accept such hassles for the sake of maintaining her creative freedom and artistic integrity.

Since going solo with 98’s promising The Virginian (Mint), Case has worked to establish her own voice, quickly moving beyond the limiting alt-country typecast with 2000’s breathtakingly beautiful Furnace Room Lullaby (Mint).

Her latest, the cinematically dreamy Black Listed (due in August), shows just how much Case has grown as a vocalist and composer, confidently letting her whisper-soft croon set the tone and tempo.

“This really felt like my record,” explains Case, sneaking bites of my chocolate cake at a Queen West joint. “I wrote the songs, made up the rhythms and played instruments on a record for the first time since I left Maow.

“My first record was half covers and half written with other people. On the second, I co-wrote all the songs. But on the new record I wrote the whole thing pretty much myself and played tenor guitar, six-string guitar, piano, drums and even some saw.”

Evidently, the members of Giant Sand, Calexico and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts who helped shape the recording were also well pleased with Case’s unique style of composition.

“The songs were written in a very naive way, where I’d get an idea and work it out on a guitar until it felt done. It might not have a bridge or even a chorus, but when I thought I had it right I’d just move on to the next one.”

When it came time to record, she found that many of her songs had multiple time signatures. One in particular starts in 4/4, then changes to waltz time for the rest of the song.

“All the musicians found that quite hilarious,” she says. “But when I’d suggest rewriting something they’d say, “No, no, it’s good that you change time right there.’ They convinced me that it would be to my advantage to leave them as I wrote them rather than try to adhere to any conventions.”

That was good advice, because those unusual song structures and slightly off-kilter changes contribute enormously to Black Listed’s strange mystique. Even the songs delivered with a lullaby sweetness have a dark, unsettling quality.

It definitely doesn’t sound like a country record. If anything, the way the songs flow with tension and release cues from Case’s voice gives the album more of an Ennio Morricone thriller soundtrack vibe. That’s what you get for hanging around in the desert with those Calexico hombres.

“Remember how I said I hadn’t been listening to any soundtracks when you asked me about it the other day? Well, I’m a liar.

“When I started to think back, I recalled that I had been listening to Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack obsessively. That and Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas score. I love how they’re able to convey so much in such simple ways.

“And it’s true that the Calexico guys are seriously into Morricone, which plays out in the way they use space. That definitely had an effect on the sound of my record. I was going for a really big sound. I think we got it.”timp@nowtoronto.com

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