Cat Power - Jukebox
Cat Power – Jukebox CD review
By Rikki O.
Chan Marshall – Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Dirty Delta Blues Band –
Judah Bauer - Guitar
Jim White - Drums
Erik Paparazzi - Bass
Gregg Foreman - Piano & Organ
Wasn't it Pablo Picasso who originally said, "Good artists copy. Great artist steal."? Then it follows, I imagine, that it takes a truly amazing artist to steal a song, deconstruct it down into a million tiny parts and then build it back again as a whole new creation. Chan Marshall has done nothing less on her latest release, "Jukebox", for Matador Records. Fans will know that this is not her first foray into the world of covers; 2000's "The Covers Record" saw dismantled, powerful versions of The Stone's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and Lou Reed's "I Found a Reason".
Born in our very own Atlanta, GA, 36-year-old Marshall is rooted by default with the blues; only the most blithely unaware of us southern-born have been able to escape the haunting song of the steaming summer nights and ghost peeking out from the pines. It was here that she played her first shows, and here where she discovered her taste for booze that left her a sobbing, insecure stage presence that only recently has come under control. Following her biggest release to date in 2006, the stunningly soulful "The Greatest", Chan spent a week in a psychiatric ward in Miami after going through a self-described "psychotic break" brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse.
That bottoming-out point wrung from her a fortunate quality: the desire for self preservation. No longer drinking, she seems to have discovered a newfound love of performing and an air of confidence that only arrives when one has looked oblivion in the eyes and turned to walk in the other direction. That hunger for life is apparent throughout Jukebox; in her cover of Dylan's "I Believe in You" she sings with a challenging and sanguine faith, "They ask me how I feel/And if my love is real/And how I know I'll make it through…" She finally believes in herself now, and the rest, as they say, is cake.
There are two Cat Power originals on "Jukebox"; one (the appetent, smoky "Song to Bobby") is nothing short of a love letter from a young Chan to her musical idol, Bob Dylan. The other, quite fittingly, is a reconsidered cover of her own whispery song, "Metal Heart" from 1998's "Moon Pix". Both carry her unmistakable signature, but truly what makes this album so extraordinary is that every single track has been tagged so thoroughly by her vision that I would dare someone to pick her originals out from the covers.
She seems to choose songs from a pool of artist that by their own nature, mirror her own transient and wayward mobility. Sexy covers of the Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion" ("We're gonna ride/ride like the one-eyed jack of diamonds/with the devil close behind") and Hank William's "Ramblin' (Wo)man" ("I love you baby/but you got to understand/when the lord made me/he made a ramblin' woman") place her right at home navigating the seductive waters of country music. Equally adept, however, are her forays into blues, with her spin on Jessie Mae Hemphill, "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy", her spirit stirring take on James Brown's "Lost Someone" and Janis Joplin's "A Woman Left Lonely".
Perhaps she sums up her progression back into herself most succinctly on the last lines of the last song on Jukebox, a stilling "Blue" originally by the great Joni Mitchell: "Blue/here is a shell for you/inside you'll hear a sigh/a foggy lullaby/There is your song from me." Indeed, these ARE her songs to us as well as to herself; sung in tribute to nothing less than the art of living your own life and singing to your own tune - above all else.