Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
In a 2006 interview with NPR, Neko Case offered her own perspective on her distinctive sound that defies rigid genre classifications, confiding that "The most apt description, the one that doesn't make me go, 'Oh, God'—a writer once called it 'country noir,' which kind of relates it to country, but it's also kind of cinematic at the same time, which is the way I feel about it.”
Released last November, the charismatic singer-songwriter’s expansive 8-LP career retrospective Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule, reminds us that even the country noir tag falls short in accurately defining her distinctive approach to songcraft, which has always been fueled by a broader array of inspirations, spanning country, rock, indie, folk, and beyond. Moreover, revisiting these recordings in sequence reinforces that Case’s soaring, versatile voice, inventive lyricism, and sonic adventurism have both evolved and improved with each successive effort across the past two decades. A remarkable feat considering that with her stellar first two albums The Virginian (1997) and Furnace Room Lullaby (2000), Case established her own creative bar incredibly high.
Indeed, when evaluating Case’s memorable output across the past decade—Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006), Middle Cyclone (2009), and The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013)—one gets the sense that Case is still in full-on ascent mode, with her career pinnacle still lying ahead. And anyone who has had the pleasure of witnessing Case deliver her soul-affirming reveries live on stage will surely agree that she is one of the most dynamic and vital performers working today.
To honor Case’s prolific discography to date, we’ve compiled a celebratory playlist of songs that span each of her six studio albums, two live LPs, and a few covers and rarities that have emerged over the years. The 54-track mix also includes her most memorable compositions as a founding member of the acclaimed ensemble The New Pornographers, as well as some of her collaborations with revered steel guitar player Jon Rauhouse. Also included here is “Atomic Number,” the recently unveiled debut single by case/lang/veirs, the powerhouse vocal trio that Case has formed with her kindred musical spirits k.d. lang and Laura Veirs.