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Alt-country heroine Neko Case returns to Orlando

Heaven or Hell

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Neko Case doesn't need our praise. Twenty years of writing, recording, and performing compelling music as a member of the New Pornographers, with her own band Her Boyfriends, and most notably as a solo artist, has garnered Case praise from much more important and astute voices than ours. This, however, does not stop Orlando Weekly from attempting to elicit some discussion of her legacy as an important American artist by attempting to place her in the company of Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits and Emmylou Harris. Our attempts are politely rebuked with a healthy dose of her well-known self-deprecation: "Please let them know I don't do this alone. It takes a lot of people in the room."

As an artist who has consistently operated by her own metrics and a fierce loyalty to the integrity of her music, she undoubtedly meets legacy criteria without even mentioning how each new album inevitably tops multiple year-end best-of lists. For her, though, the pressures of critical and audience expectations don't factor into her songwriting process at all. "That sort of thing doesn't enter into the creative phase. There are generally really big issues, obstacles and ideas that are happening at that time. I'm not really thinking about that when we're touring and working really hard," she says. "It kinda comes out of the blue and, 'Hey everybody, top 10 list'. It feels good, but it's not really the reason we do it."

After releasing her debut album, The Virginian, in 1997, Case gained immediate notice for her powerful and evocative voice as well as her penchant for crafting songs that were respectful of the country tradition while pushing at the parameters of the genre. Her 2006 breakout, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, moved her from alt-country darling to NPR stalwart, which generated sufficient momentum and interest for her follow-up, Middle Cyclone, to hit No. 3 on the album charts and garner two Grammy nominations.

Her subsequent albums have only solidified this reputation. In June of 2018 she released Hell On, an album that continues her commitment to detail and craft and nuance. Case writes songs that stand as novellas themselves, rich with characters brought to vivid life by her crystalline voice.

Case is candid about the work that goes into weaving these worlds. "Being in the studio, working on the production side there are very very miniscule little details to look at for long periods of time," she says. "You kind of go into a micro world and it can get a little lonely and you second-guess yourself a lot."

And after all of the studio time that went into creating Hell On, she's eager to get on the road. "It is a really nice change in gears at this point," says Case. "It is really welcome and exciting to be performing."

Case is dynamic onstage, exuding approachable charm and playful humor, laughing with her bandmates and engaging with the audience. She relishes the give-and-take: "I'm a pretty playful person, and I would always get a little sad at [shows] where you go to see a band and the atmosphere is very much, 'Be quiet and stand there' and the band doesn't acknowledge you. I just want the audience to know that I see them and I am very excited that they are there."

Orlando will have their opportunity to see and be seen by Neko Case Saturday at the Beacham.

music@orlandoweekly.com