From the Archives

Neko Case's Country Lust

The only mistake she made was going topless in Nashville

NEVA CHONINPosted Oct 15, 2002 12:00 AM

For an aspiring alt-country singer, Neko Case made a major faux pas: She took her shirt off at the Grand Ole Opry plaza party. "I wasn't trying to be sexy or rebellious -- I was just getting heatstroke up there," she says of her now-infamous topless performance last year, which got Case permanently blackballed from the same Nashville auditorium where Hank Williams and Patsy Cline launched their careers.

"I didn't do anything obscene. I wouldn't want to see me with my shirt off, either."

Oh, well, Case isn't really Nashville material, anyway. The Chicago singer-songwriter makes moody, deeply personal music that combines elements of country, gospel and punk rock. Case's third album, Blacklisted (not named for the incident at the Grand Ole Opry, she insists), is densely layered, full of love, lonesomeness and pedal-steel twang. It's country so cool it shivers.

But country is not Case's only passion. Growing up in Tacoma,Washington, she remembers putting Heart on the turntable and singing into a hairbrush in front of the mirror in her roller skates. "Ann and Nancy Wilson were it," she says. Case's first gig was drumming for a punk band when she was in her teens, and she still rocks out occasionally with her power-pop band the New Pornographers. But it was the singing of George Jones and Loretta Lynn, played by her grandmother when Neko was young, that eventually came back to her.

That country love affair has proved fruitful, producing two excellent, critically acclaimed solo albums, The Virginian, in 1997, and Furnace Room Lullaby, in 2000.

Now, with a little luck and a few curtsies, maybe she and the Grand Ole Opry can even kiss and make up. "I've apologized profusely," she says. "It was just a misunderstanding."

[From Issue 908 — October 31, 2002]


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