Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Cat Power – Jukebox

The build up for this one seems sorta endless: We posted the cover art and an earlier track sequence a ways back, then “Song To Bobby” and some dark end of the studio footage of Chan in action (on a song that didn’t make the final cut), and Sasha Frere-Jones gave props in a lengthy New Yorker feature without discussing You Are Free, etc. Wow, Jukebox is like the most anticipated covers album since … like forever. For all that, it’s a mixed bag. Actually, you know the cliché about being happy to listen to someone sing the phone book? This is sorta one of those deals. If you love Marshall’s voice, are willing to hear her sing anything, you’ll be in heaven. If not? Well, there are some definite snoozers and moments you start thinking too often about Paul Shaffer. The Jukebox gets going really well, though, with a jazzy, smoky (a common theme on the record) rhythmically different and retooled “Theme From ‘New York, New York,'” that jumps into (blends, really) the sultry, unfortunately retitled Hank Williams tune “Ramblin’ (Wo)Man.” You can sample a faithful snippet of the latter here. Great. It’s followed up by a lovely remake of Moon Pix staple “Metal Heart” complete with some crushing feedback explosions. On this one, you really believe Marshall when she intones the “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” Stunning. After that, the Jukebox churns out too many moments that snore.

The Dirty Delta Blues band do a great job backing Chan up — the album’s well done, but we’re often uncomfortably reminded of Bonnie Raitt. Yeah, Raitt can be pretty bad ass, but c’mon, you know what we mean. Marshall’s intimate, quietly acoustic “Silver Stallion” is purty, but minor. “Aretha, Sing One For Me” kicks up more of a soulful vibe with its great sounding organ (hey, Black Mountain echoes), but the jam doesn’t climax or really explode into anything. It’s the middle section of the album that dips — “Lost Someone,” “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy,” “I Believe In You.” Again, well executed … but feels like karaoke by someone who can sing. In the end, the real standout is her appropriately Dylan-esque original composition, “Song To Bobby,” which gets us thinking: Hey, Chan, when we can expect a record of your own material? When she’s writing her own tunes, that’s when her personality and not just her voice shine through — maybe that’s what we liked more about The Covers Record, it’s more idiosyncratic, less polished approach to the canon. Like, here, she gets it right on “Blue” … a perfect, dusky, organ-dipping reimagining of Joni. So wispy, atmospheric, and good … you can feel it transformed into Marshall’s own (and not just ready for adult contemporary). While listening to the album, we found video of Chan doing Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” with Buddy Guy:

There are flubbed notes and she apologies at the end, but there’s something less slick, more felt … or at least more engaging. More videos? Here’s Chan doing “Ain’t No Other Man,” another cover that doesn’t show up on the album.

Damn, we’d love to see her go full out on Christina. Speaking of which — what’s on and what’s not — we’ve seen a couple different track lists, so for the sake of some finality, this is the corrected sequence, as posted by Matablog:

01 “New York” (Frank Sinatra)
02 “Ramblin’ (Wo)man” (Hank Williams)
03 “Metal Heart” (Cat Power)
04 “Silver Stallion” (The Highwaymen)
05 “Aretha, Sing One For Me” (George Jackson)
06 “Lost Someone” (James Brown)
07 “Lord, Help The Poor And Needy” (Jessie Mae Hemphill)
08 “I Believe In You” (Bob Dylan)
09 “Song To Bobby” (Cat Power)
10 “Don’t Explain” (Billie Holiday)
11 “Woman Left Lonely” (Janis Joplin)
12 “Blue” (Joni Mitchell)

Then there’s the limited-edition deluxe edition that’ll come with a bonus disc featuring:

01 “I Feel” (Hot Boys)
02 “Naked, If I Want To” (Moby Grape)
03 “Breathless” (Nick Cave)
04 “Angelitos Negros” (Roberta Flack)
05 “She’s Got You” (Patsy Cline)

Jukebox is out 1/22 on Matador.

Tags: Cat Power