In 1997, alt-country singer-songwriter Neko Case released her debut album, ‘The Virginian,’ which was half made up of cover songs originally recorded by expected and not-so-expected artists like the Everly Brothers and Queen. Very few people paid attention to it. But the record serves as an intro point to the follow-up album, 2000’s ‘Furnace Room Lullaby,’ which was credited to Neko Case & Her Boyfriends (and includes future New Pornographers bandmate Carl Newman). People paid attention to this one.

Immediately striking a more confident tone, Case – who was born in Virginia but raised in Washington – settled into her role as alt-country’s most assured female singer and songwriter on ‘Furnace Room Lullaby.’ She had a hand in writing all 12 songs, which skirt the line between twangy torch and hipster cool.

From autobiographical opener ‘Set Out Running,’ Case shakes off any confidence issues left over from her debut. The song serves as ‘Furnace Room Lullaby’’s intro and manifesto. From there, she winds through a series of tracks – like the spacious ‘Guided by Wire’ and ‘Twist the Knife,’ co-penned by Ryan Adams – that leads to the haunting title cut, a moody murder ballad that sounds like an old-school country classic retrofitted for modern times.

‘Furnace Room Lullaby’ was embraced by both critics and curious fans who caught the buzz, but it didn’t make a dent in the mainstream (Case wouldn’t crack the Top 200 until 2006’s ‘Fox Confessor Brings the Flood’; her latest album, 2009’s ‘Middle Cyclone,’ debuted at No. 3). Case got even darker on her next album, adapting a torchy noir persona on 2002’s ‘Blacklisted,’ by which time the New Pornographers’ debut album, ‘Mass Romantic,’ had made them indie stars. ‘Furnace Room Lullaby’ strikes the first lovely, dark notes in a career laced with them.

Listen to Neko Case & Her Boyfriends' 'Set Out Running'

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