Music News & Reviews

Neko Case, frequent collaborator and singular presence, to play Grass Valley

Neko Case, above, teamed with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs on an album earlier this year.
Neko Case, above, teamed with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs on an album earlier this year. Courtesy Center for the Arts

Neko Case is part of three music supergroups. At least if one limits one’s measure of superstardom to smart alternative and Americana acts who usher in each new album with a live performance on NPR.

The Virginia-born, Vancouver, B.C.-art-schooled Case, 45, belongs to beloved Canadian power pop group the New Pornographers and now also case/lang/veirs, a country trio – Case and fellow singer-songwriters k.d. lang and Laura Veirs – that released its first album early this year.

Case devotees also count her and the musicians who back her solo projects – Jon Rauhouse (pedal steel), Eric Bachmann (guitar), Tom Ray (bass), Dan Hunt (drums) and Kelly Hogan (backing vocals) – as its own supergroup. It sometimes contracts into a slimmer outfit because of budget constraints or other commitments (like Hogan touring with the Decemberists), but will be in full force Sunday when Case performs at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Grass Valley.

Every Case project benefits from her striking vocals, which evoke 1970s country superstars like Bobbie Gentry and Tammy Wynette in whiskey-soaked warmth and forthrightness. Whether singing her own “country noir” compositions or alternative rock songs written by New Pornographers’ Carl Newman, Case takes a purposeful approach, her quieter moments free of breathiness, her belting unfettered by bells and whistles

Known for her exquisitely intelligent lyrics, Case does not sing, like those ’70s country queens, about standing by or leaving a guy, but rather what it means to be that guy. Or animal. On the hard-driving “Man,” off her 2013 album “The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You,” Case assumes the perspective of a man determined to maintain societal standards of male behavior.

Last year, Case released vinyl versions of the Grammy-nominated “Worse Things Get” and “Cyclone,” along with her six other solo albums and an 80-page book of photographs and artwork, as the box set “Truckdriver, Gladiator, Mule.”

We caught up with Case by phone last week at her Vermont farm, where she and her band were rehearsing for the current tour, where they will perform numbers from the box set. Every bit the animal lover her songs suggest, Case shares the farm with dogs, cats, chickens and a horse.

Q: Why do a box set mid-career?

A: I didn’t realize people chose a time to do it. It was kind of about the vinyl. We had never released everything (on vinyl), and we had enough to make a box set. It is (also) kind of an excuse to get together lots of photos and ephemera.

Q: How did the collaboration process work with k.d. lang and Laura Veirs? Did you each write your own songs, and flesh them out together?

A: We decided that even though we are three alpha personalities with our own projects, we would be a democracy and write the songs from the ground up with each other.

Some of the songs are more one person or another for sure, but we really did work hard (to collaborate). And it was difficult, because sometimes you get attached to an idea, and if the other two don’t like it, you just have to go with it. … And it really does sound like three people and not just one person bringing a song to the project, which I really like.

Q: You were born in Virginia, and lived in Vancouver and Chicago. Why did you choose to make Vermont your home?

A: I lived in Vermont when I was little, and it was the only place I felt like I fit in when I was a little girl. I always wanted to go back, and I did in 2007 with a friend of mine.

I was kind of scared to go back to where I lived when I was little. I thought everything would be bulldozed, and it would ruin my idyllic memories. But I went back, and no one had aged, and no one had died (laughs), and everyone was so alive and great, and I said, “That’s it. I am moving back here.”

Q: During this election cycle, so many Americans threatened to move to Canada if things turned out a certain way. And I thought, now Neko Case – that’s an American Canadians actually would want to move there, if she chose …

A: I definitely feel like a North American. When I was little, I lived right on the border, so we only had (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.), back in the day when we had TV antennas. I actually thought I was Canadian for quite a while. Then I spent all my college years there. … I was really sad when my visa was up and I had to move home.

Neko Case

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13

Where: Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 255 South Auburn St., Grass Valley

Cost: $38-$48

Information: 530-274-8384 ext 14; www.thecenterforthearts.org

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