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Cat Power “Jukebox” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

For someone who finds her music often preceded by her reputation, various stages of Chan Marshall’s second covers album Jukebox are dominated by the reputations of both those who came before her as well as those who accompany her throughout. From Sinatra to James Brown, Joni Mitchell to Billie Holiday, Jukebox is meant to be as much a tribute as a collaboration of modern influences; among those along side Marshall for the album are one-time Zwan bassist Matt Sweeney, organist Spooner Oldham, long time Al Green collaborator Teenie Hodges, drummer Larry McDonald, violist Dylan Willemsa and the Dirty Delta Blues (including Judah Bauer of The Blues Explosion, drummer Jim White, bassist Erik Paparazzi and drummer Gregg Foreman).

“I Believe in You” takes Bob Dylan’s fantastic original and crafts it much akin to Marshall’s own fashion, a sleek cosmopolitan blend of grit and brilliance. The track sounds so close to “Ball and Biscuit” that the basic rhythm could easily be misconstrued as such; sounding far too much like a Jimmy Page for beginners instructional to be thought of as a White Stripes fuzz however. Rolling Stone’s Melissa Maerz suggests of the song, “Stripping ‘I Believe in You’ down to a single electric guitar and a shuffle, Marshall belts out a newly confident swagger as if she’s breaking in a new pair of fancy red shoes.” To a high degree such a suggestion, that the track and furthermore the album is a point of breaking free, radiates with brilliant truth. For as much as each cover song performed on the album is an homage it is just as much a step forward. Marshall’s “A Woman Left Lonely” sounds more like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals than Janis Joplin, a testament to her awkward step out of history, no matter how subtle those steps may be.

For as much emphasis as is placed on the almighty term of “influence” surrounding such an album it is Marshall’s revamped original “Metal Heart” that provides the clearest record of her as an artist at this stage in her career. She sings “It’s damned if you don’t and it’s damned if you do, be true ’cause they’ll lock you up in a sad sad zoo;” words that are roughly a decade old yet entirely relevant. For much like her image and reputation sometimes hurt her, to this point her sound too has hindered a vision of a truly unique artist. It’s often been a thought that such musicians as Marshall are in a situation where their sound, if not inspired themes, owe so much to that of those who came before them that they are slightly irrelevant unless they take the form of an overwhelming tribute. And almost in spite of her sporadic reputation, her documented issues with substance and her generally odd behavior Marshall takes her own music and revitalizes it every bit as much as that of those she idolizes. Damned if you don’t, damned if you do.