Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My 3 Favorite Cat Power Albums

Finally The
Cat Power has come back to Austin!!!

Well, she
will be in Austin. Chan Marshall and her Dirty Delta Blues Band come to town this Saturday (10/11) for the first time since last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. The more than just slightly pretty Chan (pronounced ‘shawn’) will play Stubb’s, making up for a show that was originally scheduled back in April but cancelled due to damage of her vocal cords.

After several months of rest she’s back in action promoting her latest release and second covers album
Jukebox, while also building hype for an EP of outtakes from those studio sessions due in December. With eight albums and thirteen years in the business Chan has gone from grunge to minimalist to full-band southern soul, continuously evolving her sound and earning a reputation for being one of the most gifted and consistently excellent singer/songwriters today. Not to mention one of my personal favorites.

So in anticipation of Saturday’s show I am providing a little retrospect on Cat Power by briefly discussing my favorite albums in her catalog. Though it is remarkably hard for me to rank all her releases based on my liking, I can say that these particular three are definitely my favorites so far... Countdown style...

3. Are You Free (2003)
This release now stands as a bridge between Chan's minimalist phase and her current full band sound.  It offers a little from both sides, while dealing with ideas of personal freedom and being free. It begins with the track "I Don't Blame You," a storytelling song of a doomed rock star rumored to be about Kurt Cobain, but could also parallel Chan's pending breakdown and growing alcohol problems.  "Speak for Me" and "He War" are a transition to more upbeat territory which at the time was a new avenue for Chan's music. Furthermore, she is even able to make Eddie Vedder sound cool on their closing duet "Evolution." And Chan deserves all the recognition in the world just for pulling off that tremendous feat.  

2. Dear Sir (1995)
The Chan Marshall that we heard on her first album was a much grungier version, but no less honest as a songwriter or gritty of a singer. Even back then her vocals sound like the embodiment of suicide. Recorded with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar, the instrumentation behind Chan is as dominant as the vocals. The screeching guitars battle her voice for superiority leading to a beautiful balance of noise where both pull you into each song. It features some of Cat Power's loudest most in-your-face material. Listening to "The Sleepwalker" should make you pull out an old flannel, some baggy ripped jeans, and have you staring at your shoes.  Dear Sir is arguably the most underrated and overlooked album to come out of the early 90’s grunge movement.

1. The Covers Record (2000)
Usually cover albums are throwaways that artists use to buy time or meet contractual agreements; they're really not meant to be spectacular. But Chan must not have realized that because The Covers Record is a career defining moment. Never one to shy away from recording other people's material (every pervious album included one or more cover tracks), Chan decides to deconstruct and then reconstruct songs to a point where they are almost unrecognizable from the original.  For instance, The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" becomes a quiet whisper of a song and she is able to fill "Wild is the Wind" with more pain than even Nina Simone could muster. It was this that made Chan Marshall a master in the art of covering others. At the risk of sounding too cliche, a Cat Power remake truly breathes new life into the original. For this reason The Covers Record is a milestone in music that should be admired for years to come.  

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