On each of her first three studio albums, you could see Neko Case move ever forward: if her debut, The Virginian was an equal amount of covers and originals, and her third album, Blacklisted — which is where I think I came aboard — is pretty much all songs Case wrote on her own, her sophomore album, Furnace Room Lullaby, was all collaborations.
But there was no question that Case was running the show, and Furnace Room Lullaby is probably my favorite of the records she made during this period, with the highlight being the torch elegy, “South Tacoma Way.”
A slow-burning waltz, “South Tacoma Way” contains sparse guitars that underscore the painful lyrics Case is singing about choosing not to go to the funeral of a loved one who had clearly touched her life in a very real way.
I put on that sweater you gave me
I woke up in the kitchen a few minutes later
I didn’t know how I had gotten there
Did you guide me?
It’s clear from the song that she’s made it as far has her hometown, driving down South Tacoma Way, where everything reminds her of him, and it’s clear from the song that’s enough. Because it’s really too much.
Couldn’t pay my respects to a dead man
Your life was much more to me
And I chased away with sticks and stones
But that rage kept following me
On the second “following me” she really really lets it loose, accompanied by secret weapon Kelly Hogan, who showed up for Furnace Room Lullaby, and remained a key component in her music for over a decade.
But that said, it’s still up to Neko to get across all of the mixed emotions — love, rage, sadness, wistfulness — she’s feeling in “South Tacoma Way” — and it was her first truly transcendent moment on a record, but not even the most transcendent moment she had that year. But more on that in a couple of weeks.
“South Tacoma Way”
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