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Dissected: Neko Case’s Albums from Worst to Best

on November 12, 2015, 2:00pm

07. The Virginian (1997)


“South Tacoma Way”: Of all her records, The Virginian isn’t steeped too deeply in any specific locale. Of the original compositions, the title track is the only one that references an actual place, and the song itself focuses more on a girl who fell away from the lord and was “free to do what she wanted” as she didn’t ask god to take her back into his graces when she died. For the covers, Case’s take on the Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” would be the first of many times she would use specific places in the west or Midwest to set her stories.

“Margaret Vs. Pauline”: “Karoline” is the only character who gets named on The Virginian, the “wild and unashamed” cowgirl who draws Case’s desire. Beyond that, much of the album is from a first-person perspective, whether it’s trying to scare away the “Honky Tonk Hiccups” or dealing with heartbreak on “Thanks a Lot”.

“I’m a Man”: On “Karoline”, originally written and recorded with her former band Maow, Case takes a traditional country melody about pursuing a partner for the night, but switches things up. The narrator wants to be the titular Karoline’s “slave” for the night, and while it initially seems an instance of Case taking on the male role in the story, the line “Cowgirl I’ve got that loving that puts all those men to shame” makes the song seem like an excellent gay country jam.

“Deep Red Bells”: The Virginian isn’t notably violent compared to Case’s other records but does feature its fair share of tragedy. “Lonely Old Lies” finds Case trying to drown her sorrows with “Moon River”, and “Jettison” finds her pleading with the “Sandman” to take her “much further than sleep.” The most combative character here is the character in “The Virginian”, who continues to defy God after death.

“Whip the Blankets”: Case’s first album features some of the more eclectic cover choices of her career, showing how she can fit songs by seemingly disparate artists into her own style. The record sees Case taking on traditional country tunes like Loretta Lynn’s  “Somebody Led Me Away” as well as ’60s pop through her takes on The Everly Brothers’ “Bowling Green” and Scott Walker’s “Duchess”, finishing up with her version of Queen’s “Misfire”. None sound out of place on the record, and while her take on the Walker track may be a highlight, each shows Case apt at reinterpreting songs from different genres.

Her Boyfriends: The Virginian was effectively Case’s first solo album and the first of two to be labeled under the band name Neko Case & Her Boyfriends. It marked the first of many collaborations with Carolyn Mark, who Case would play with as The Corn Sisters, and Carl Newman, who she would play with in The New Pornographers. Most notably, “Jettison” features a duet with singer Rose Melberg, the Olympia indie-pop artist who played in Tiger Trap, Go Sailor, and The Softies.

David Sackllah