Album Review: Cat Power
“Live Session – iTunes EP”
I like to equate reviewing a Cat Power album to listening to the girl you love play you the only thing she knows on guitar. No matter how clunky the chords to “Born to Be Wild” (or in Ms. Marshall’s case “Wild Is The Wind”) might sound it’ll always ring with a bit more splendor than it actually deserves due more to the performer than the actual performance. So am I saying I’m in love with Chan Marshall? Yes. In fact the first and only time we’ve spoken I proposed marriage to her (she said maybe). Am I saying the songs contained on this EP aren’t all that good? Not entirely. If you’re a fan of the Cat Power of yesteryear this might be exactly what the doctor ordered; a plaintive, stripped down and above all simple collection of songs recorded exclusively by Cat Power herself with none of that Memphis Rhythm mumbo jumbo around to muck it all up. Unfortunately, (because I know she pays very close attention to reviews on Paperstereo) I’m not one of those people. The gorgeous strings and fantastic backing band on her most recent album, “The Greatest”, provide a far more expressive backdrop than a simple guitar or piano can to a performer who had by that point in her career done as much as one really can with said instruments. It was about time that the pallet was extended and “The Greatest” turned out remarkably.
The disparity between these two styles is highlighted immediately with her reinterpretation of one of the most poignant tracks from “The Greatest”, “Love & Communication.” Where the album version swells and expands; this version slowly limps along to a fairly nondescript climax. Luckily Chan’s voice could carry even the most unexceptional song along, with all its cracks and sometimes achingly stunning power. “House of the Rising Sun,” a live staple for years, gets a similarly low-key rendition, though in its case, much like her version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” benefits greatly from annexing every nonessential element. Like Ryan Adam’s “Wonderwall” it’ll leave you wondering just how to hum the original because it so ingrains itself to your consciousness, sounding the way you secretly thought the song should always sound, but you weren’t quite able to put your finger on it. Having released a covers record, with another in the works it’s no surprise that Cat Power knows how to make a song sound all her own, a fact that is made extremely evident on her version of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” Her voice takes the lyrics for a ride, intoning and emoting with the best of them, but the real star here is her piano work. It’s both restrained and expansive, moving the song forward the way her voice usually does, plinking out the final notes with disquieting melancholy. Lastly, Cat Power puts in a fairly phoned-in version of “Wild Is The Wild.” Not surprisingly her voice is in top shape, the a cappella “You you you you” rising immaculately, but it somehow doesn’t seem to hold the desired weight one expects from a Cat Power song, especially one we’ve heard before in a similar fashion. So maybe this is simply four beautiful, if not a bit dumbed-down, versions of great songs by a remarkably prolific artist. Maybe this is just a throwaway stopgap between proper recordings, not to be taken all that seriously. Or maybe I’m just bitter that she turned down that marriage proposal.
- Matt Lindsay -
Tags: Cat Power, Chan Marshall, Live Session, iTunes, mp3