My decision to name this new weekly "Roots & Americana" rant after the 1981 Blasters song "Border Radio" stems from my belief that L.A. punk was ground zero for alt-country. Bands like the Blasters, X, the Knitters, and Gun Club were a gateway for the Mohawk-sporting set into the blues, traditional country, and rockabilly.

Specifically, the roster of Slash Records--which included all the aforementioned acts--set the tone for current maverick indie labels like Bloodshot and Anti. So for my inaugural installment of Border Radio, I caught up with an artist who went from drumming in a punk band to being one of alt-country's biggest stars: ex-Seattleite Neko Case.

Miss Neko is in the process of finishing up not one, but two forthcoming albums, to be released via a new licensing deal with Anti, where labelmates include Merle Haggard and Tom Waits. "I'm definitely in good company, but I didn't do it just because of that," insists the former Hattie's Hat dishwasher.

The Tigers Have Spoken, a live album recorded at seven shows in three cities, comes out November 9. The record was partly inspired by trying to please fans who have pleaded with her to bring a drummer on tour, or to perform more upbeat sets. "I just thought the best way to do that might be on a live recording. And I'd never done one, so I wanted to see how it was done." The verdict? "It's very expensive and difficult," she admits. But she had good company: The Sadies, Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops, Kelly Hogan, steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse, and Victoria, BC hell-raiser Carolyn Mark all make appearances.

Just don't expect to hear a slew of old favorites. Only two of the eleven cuts, the title track from Blacklisted, and Canadian Amp's "Favorite," have been previously released. "We didn't want to make a record of songs everybody already had," says Case. Covers feature prominently, including numbers by Loretta Lynn and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Her version of the standard "Wayfaring Stranger," recorded at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto, includes the audience of 300 singing along.

"There are also two new originals, which were written in rehearsal with the Sadies," she says. Of that pair, the wildlife buff describes the CD's title tune as "a very sad song. It's been a shitty year for tigers." "If You Knew" falls into the "bitchy, girl group song" category; to complement it, there's also Case's interpretation of the Shangri-Las' tearjerker "Train from Kansas City."

Next up is an as-yet-untitled studio album. Case reports that about eight songs, including several more Sadies collaborations, are already in the can. Hopefully, we'll get to hear some when she plays here the last weekend of November, because that disc's not due out till March 2005. "We're taking it slow, because I'm pretty exhausted from doing Tigers. I wanted to do a live album because I thought it would be a much easier recording process than the studio, but boy, was I ever wrong!"

kurt@thestranger.com

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