Cat Power - Jukebox
Jukebox (Matador, 2008)
Download: Cat Power - "Song To Bobby"
Update: "Aretha, Sing One For Me" taken down at the request of management.
Oh, Cat. You have some strange Power over me.
Okay, I won't make any more puns for the rest of the review, I pinky swear.
On Jukebox, Ms. Marshall leads listeners on a wild goose chase to try and find her identity. She starts us out in "New York," a cover of the Frank Sinatra classic. It's the perfect song to start off the album. In the lyrics, we're promised that her "vagabond shoes are longing to stray," which sets the tone for the whole album. From the stomp and bustle of her vision of "New York," we're promptly escorted into a smoky, cosmopolitan soul number reminiscent of Dusty Springfield. It's nearly impossible to recognize the song as a cover of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man."
On "Silver Stallion," Marshall sells listeners the typical Western myth. The song, which is a cover of a Highwayman song, couples twanging guitars with images of dusty trails and angry devils. It's a beautiful song that combines the steely reserve to not be bound in one place with the sorrow of knowing that the singer is running from something.
And then almost immediately, we're back into a 60's lounge with soul music pumping out of the speakers. "Aretha, Sing One For Me" (originally by George Jackson) plays with the sensuousness of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" and the whiskey-tinged femininity of mid-60's girl groups.
The rest of the album bounces around in similar fashion. One moment, Marshall is sitting on a fence in the middle of nowhere chewing on a bit of hay, the next you can imagine her transplanted to the heart of the big city. There's something delicious about her musical homelessness on Jukebox. Even when switching between country and pop, Marshall's distinctive, husky voice serves as a centerpiece, focusing your attention on her. It's not as if Marshall is jumping styles and you're watching, it's as is she's guiding you on a tour of different pieces of her identity.
The beauty about this album is that it isn't a chance for Marshall to make us a mixtape/CD/mp3 dump. As she displays on the original tracks on this album, she's feeding us a little sample of what's to come. You Are Free (which came out in 2004 – how old does that make you feel?) established Cat Power as someone who could blur the line between folk and blues, a somewhat expected move after her last covers record.
The new songs on the album send a little bit of a mixed message on what we can expect form Marshall in the next few years. "I Believe In You" straddles riff rock, soul and stompy folk. It's awkward. It's not a bad song, but it doesn't come together right. It's like the channa masala I made for dinner the other night: all the pieces were there, but the chickpeas weren't quite done. It's a little chunky and unpleasant, even if it tastes good. It still needs some smoothing. "Song To Bobby," on the other hand, is very cool. It's an ode to Bob Dylan that comes across sounding like a Dylan cover. It's a beautiful song that weds folk and emotional, wailing blues vocals. If this is where she's headed in her writing, then we can expect great things in the years ahead.
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