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Getting Into: Neko Case

How often have you said "I really think I would like that band, but I've never gotten into them"? Therein lies the inspiration for Getting Into, where I'll help start your education about a singer, band, or film director by telling you what albums or movies you'll need as a beginner, intermediate, and advanced fan. (Got ideas for Getting Into posts? Leave a comment or send me a private message.)

The inspiration for today's post comes from tdamji, who recently suggested taking on the genre-straddling music of Neko Case. It turned out to be particularly good timing: Today, a bonus edition of Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, Case's most recent album, hits stores, including a second disc of tracks from earlier in her career. Plus, Case's first solo album, The Virginian, recently got reissued. If you've been hearing about Case but didn't know where to start listening to her — or if you're familiar with her through the New Pornographers but don't know her solo albums — this is how I'd recommend navigating through her discography:

Beginner: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Blacklisted

Case's music is particularly tough to classify, shifting between indie pop, alternative rock, gospel, and folk standards with ease. I'd happily put Fox Confessor in the hands of anyone who claims not to like country, as its lush arrangements and spotlight on Case's soaring, unwavering voice defy all genre constraints. I didn't name it one of the best albums of 2006 for nothing, and it's only grown on me since then, thanks to songs like "Hold On, Hold On" and "Maybe Sparrow." The new, expanded edition may be the only album a beginning Case fan really needs. But for good measure, it's worth picking up 2002's Blacklisted, which is a bit more sparse but still full of accessible songs, especially standouts "I Wish I Was the Moon" and "Deep Red Bells."

For the intermediate and advanced selections, just

Intermediate: The Tigers Have Spoken and Furnace Room Lullaby

To delve more into Case's country roots, check out The Tigers Have Spoken, a live album Case recorded in 2004. There are some strong original songs on the album, including the spirited "If You Knew," but it's most remarkable for Case's take on traditional folk songs ("This Little Light") and country anthems penned by the likes of Loretta Lynn. Furnace Room Lullaby is a more personal album — including two tributes to Tacoma, Wash., where Case spent most of her childhood — and while its sound isn't strictly country, its lyrics deal with themes of lost love and working-class struggle. I'm not sure I've ever heard a more honest tribute to a hometown than Case's "Thrice All American," my go-to Furnace Room track.

Advanced: The Virginian, Canadian Amp, and various live recordings and side projects

The Virginian, Case's first album, is a rough-and-tumble, bluegrass-heavy affair, not nearly as polished as her later work but an incredibly fun listen all the same. (For some hints on where The New Pornographers came from, check out Case's duet with AC Newman — back when he was still Carl — on "Bowling Green.") Canadian Amp, meanwhile, is a quiet EP recorded in Case's kitchen; it's a shame it's so darn hard to find, because "Knock Loud" deserves to be heard. At this point, it's also worth looking into Case's various side projects (I'm fond of The Corn Sisters, Case's country duo with Carolyn Mark). Her most recent live album, Live From Austin, TX, is a strong collection of songs, but frankly, you'd be better off downloading this live concert NPR recorded in Washington, DC, which keeps the spirit of Case's live shows intact, meandering stories and all.


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