Cat Power | Jukebox (Matador)

cd_catpower.jpgMarshall has a way of taking what is familiar, fixed, or at the very worst, stale, and uniquely contemporizing it for a new time in music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The majority of Chan Marshall’s (aka Cat Power) latest release, Jukebox, is luxuriously filled with 11 distinctively bluesy covers. Backed by the Dirty Delta Blues Band and Stuart Sikes, this genre-sprawling and oh-so lush effort follows the path of her 2000 album, The Covers Record, which features reimaginings of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed, among others. However, this time around, you’ll have to lend a dedicated ear to recognize old favorites; Marshall has a way of taking what is familiar, fixed, or at the very worst, stale, and uniquely contemporizing it for a new time in music.

Take, for instance, "New York, New York," the first track off of Jukebox, the very song popularized by Frank Sinatra. It is almost unidentifiable unless you cling to the lyrics when you listen; the melody and rhythm have been marked with the distinguished Cat Power brand which shoves Old Blues Eyes out of the range of relevancy.

Other tracks include soulful—yet, sort of predictable—versions of Joni Mitchell’s "Blue," Janis Joplin’s "Woman Left Lonely," and Billie Holiday’s "Don’t Explain." Sure, they sound all right, but I found myself craving and constantly returning to the tunes that managed to ascend from the hazy, underground tunnel that can—at times—be the Cat Power sound.

Rest assured, bright spots do abound. Marshall’s renditions of Hank Williams’ "Ramblin’ Man" (aptly changed to "Ramblin’ (Wo)man"), The Highwaymen’s "Silver Stallion," and Jesse Mae Hemphill’s "Lord Help" all deserve priority spots on shuffle. These songs allow Marshall’s voice to shine (or delightfully ooze, rather) against guitar plucks and piano keys.

The only new original song, an "I’m not worthy," ode to Marshall’s longtime hero, Bob Dylan, is one of the highlights of the album. She sings, "I want to tell you/ I’ve always wanted to tell you/ But I never had the chance to say it," indicating it’s a tribute perhaps long overdue. Following a highly listenable cover of "I Believe in You" from Dylan’s 1979 album Slow Train Coming, "Song for Bobby" proves that obsession with a Great Songwriter resonates more deeply with modern audiences than her personal take on said Great Songwriter’s art.

Cat Power is undoubtedly a similar target of infatuation for the upcoming indie singer-songwriter generation. But until the future writes the inevitable "Song for Chan," and reinvents "Good Woman" or "Lived in Bars," Marshall reigns as the ruler of smoky vocals, evocative lyrics, and collections of covers done right. B | Katie Cook

RIYL: Rachael Yamagata, Ray LaMontagne

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