Cat Power – Jukebox

Cat Power
Jukebox

The rewarding aspect about a Cat Power covers album is exactly what makes the songs so appealing. Though they still remain covers, the manner and method that Cat Power delivers them in is as if they are her originals. She changes most of the tempos, alters the keys, sings them in a different style and makes everything — right down to the lyrics — all her own. And on Jukebox, they are ultimately transformed into something amazing and that’s certainly a compliment considering that these covers were already amazing on their own.

Chan Marshall has enlisted the help of the “Dirty Delta Blues Band”, a retreat from the Memphis musicians she employed on her stunning, 2006 album, The Greatest. With the help of musicians from the Dirty Three and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, their performances allow Marshall’s primal voice to take over the songs.

And take over them she has. On the opener, “New York” (yes, the famous one Frank Sinatra sung) Marshall delivers an expressive, emotional touch as she alters the cadence that Sinatra famously sung it with. The result is an excellent bluesy stomp and equipped with Marshall’s beautifully lustrous voice is a great start to the album.

The obvious reward of the album is the way that Marshall allows her voice to clearly ascend above the music. It’s never more obvious than on the painstakingly dour, “Don’t Explain.” In terms of raw talent, Marshall is supreme and her wounded voice takes control of the songs. As preposterous as it may appear, she is our modern day Billie Holiday—without the drug issues. She infuses the songs with an unmistakable charm and prowess that is both seductive and alluring. Oh yeah, did I mention that “Don’t Explain” is a Holiday cover?

She changes Hank William’s “Ramblin’ Man” to “Ramblin’ Woman” and uses William’s original only as a rough outline. The slow burner, “Lost Someone” is more straightforward but Marshall’s sultry delivery truly pays James Brown a grand homage. The climactic approach to “Metal Heart” is also fantastic. As the band pounds away, Marshall’s voice soars to deliver a great rendition. And she can certainly scale back when she wants to as she does on the serene and intimate cover of “Silver Stallion.”

The band hangs back for most of the album and the way the production is set up allows Marshall’s voice to breathe life into these songs. It’s a much fuller sound than her previous covers album, 2000’s The Covers Record, one that works brilliantly. Where that album allowed her to take the songs, rework them and strip them down; this one has her showing that even though these songs are reworked, they deliver a soulful jolt of Delta Blues.

The Bob Dylan theme on here is a great one as well. She features a cover of his “I Believe in You” before delivering the only original, “Song to Bobby” — where yes, she sings about and to Dylan. She closes the album out with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” in a direct approach to give thanks to one of her many influences. Like Mitchell’s version, this one is hazy and blurred with a tinkling piano and an atmospheric reverb.

It’s taken a while for Marshall to find the limelight but she has always been terrific. Maybe it’s because so many people heard her wonderful cover of “Sea of Love” (found on her previous covers album) from the 2007 hit film, Juno but whatever the reason is, her credit is highly due. Cat Power is certainly one of the most creative and beautiful artists that consistently puts out great album after great album. And it’s her cathartic, invigorating voice on the never-miss Jukebox that aids in delivering one of the best albums of 2008 — already.