Cat Power—a.k.a. Chan Marshall—has become a darling of the indie-rock world by evoking gut-wrenching sensitivity. But it’s a sensitivity that feels so well-worn and safe that it might as well be the musical version of Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—there’s comfort and safety in familiarity.
Marshall offers that comfort again on Jukebox, a collection of covers of songs by some of America’s iconic singers: James Brown, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, and Hank Williams. (Also included are two original compositions and some more obscure covers, including one song by Oak Ridge’s Lee Clayton.)
Marshall’s voice, an achingly beautiful and distinctive Southern drawl, tends to consume everything it touches. As an artist, she’s impenetrable. Maybe the job of musicians is to make pleasant sounds and not open themselves up to listeners. But when I listen to performances by Williams, Dylan, Mitchell and Holiday, I feel like I know who they are. This is superficial—those artists were always a little rough around the edges, lending at least a whiff of humanity. But listening to them, I feel like they understand my heartache and loneliness. They’re on my side. Art is able to bridge a gap between the artist and the listener. I’ve been listening to Chan Marshall for years now and I don’t have the slightest idea who she is. Like the rest of her work, Jukebox immediately grabs me but is quickly forgotten.