Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) makes two ballsy moves with her new album, Jukebox, largely considered her second covers album, though it contains two originals. She leads off with the first, a cover of “New York, Now York.” It’s a courageous move, not only because it’s such a famous song, but also because on this album, it’s the song furthest from her existing aesthetics. She takes an interesting approach to it, making it sound like she’s succumbing to the city’s seductions, as opposed to Sinatra’s swaggering pseudo-dominance.
Cat Power, “New York”
The second bold move is covering her own song, “Metal Heart.” Originally on Moon Pix and now about 10 years old, the first version of “Metal Heart” rests on a simple arrangement of acoustic guitar with a light smattering of drums. Her vocals compete with the music and the reverb, making it sound like she’s fighting to be heard, which is a compelling treatment for a song that borrows the line, “I once was lost / but now I’m found / I was blind / but now I see you.” She’s somewhat older now, and you can hear it in her voice on the update — she sings as though she’s reflecting on the memory of the song. This is exactly what she’s doing, but naturally the song was more powerful when performed closer to its birth.
For the most part, the rest of the choices are unsurprising, though not unworthy. Hank Williams’ gender-modified “Ramblin’ Woman” is one of the more fitting matches, and easily falls in the album’s top tier simply by virtue of being such a suitable song for her in the first place. She pays tribute to soul with George Jackson’s “Aretha, Sing One for Me” and James Brown’s “Lost Someone,” with the latter being the more impressive of the two, though it would benefit from more energy. Especially noteworthy is the cover of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” which destroys the listener in much the same way that Holiday did.
The iconic Bob Dylan gets two songs from Jukebox: a remake of “I Believe In You” and the only new original tune, “Song to Bobby.” For the Dylan cover, she employs the same tension that he does, sounding fiery and even a little too relentless, much like the man himself. Without seeing the name of the song first, “Song to Bobby” is easily recognizable as a Dylan tribute. Mimicking his vocal trademarks all too well, she croons about his effect on her life and the missed chances they’ve had to meet.
Cat Power, “Song to Bobby” (download)
The rest of Jukebox isn’t bad, but doesn’t delight or impress in the way that Marshall has before (and doubtless will again). Still, it’s fun to hear her with a full band at her will, and one hopes that she might continue to experiment with them for her next project. Though this is far from Marshall’s best effort, it’s a nice showcase of her artistic range, and can only whet appetites for what she brings to the table further down the line.