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Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Music: Cat Power's Jukebox Stocked With Curious Covers

Cat Power gets creamy

Cat Power has done this before. In 2000 Chan Marshall (for Cat Power is she for all intents and purposes) released The Covers Record, a set of radically re-interpreted songs both classic and obscure that dramatically raised her profile in the music world. Jukebox is a similar undertaking but Cat Power is in a different musical place than she was on the earlier album.

In 2000, she was still tentative as a performer, not so much freak folk as freaked-out folk. She was known for stage shows that devolved into abject terror and whispered vocals. The arrangements -- spare, exploratory, searching -- reflect this and add to the revelatory feel of her interpretations.

Today Cat Power has become something of a classicist, her last album The Greatest having embraced classic country soul moves with the help of a group of well-versed sessioners. She has also developed a more confident stage presence and quit drinking. As a result some have found Jukebox to be disappointingly straightforward -- her confident arrangements leading to more standardized interpretations.

This is a more conventional record than The Covers Record for Cat Power but she has reconfigured these songs for the most part, many radically, to fit her bold new style. Hank William's "Travellin' Man" becomes "Travelin' (Wo)Man", and the gender shift is more than just titular. The melancholy she found in her earlier stripped down alt folk rock is still here but it's fully limbed -- fixed to her distinctive voice which is deployed with much more precision.

There are two originals here -- a reworking of her "Metal Heart" and a tribute to Bob Dylan called "Song to Bobby" that plays out as a fans mash note. My favorite track though is her opening-- a cover of the Sinatra standard "New York, New York" that shows off her newly minted swagger.

Jukebox gets 4 out 5 Fonzies:

Here's Cat Power in the studio doing "Dark End of The Street" which, despite my earlier post previewing the album, didn't make the cut. Too bad!

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