With the bevy of female, neo-soul acts held in such high regard today, I, for one, am always delighted when someone bucks convention and goes the neo-pseudo-blues route. Sarcasm aside, Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) returns to her concept of putting her version of the blues with a jazzy/country twist on covers on her latest, Jukebox. While this certainly will never be confused with Big Mama Thorton or KoKo Taylor, Marshall does a respectable job imprinting her trademark throaty growl on some of the lesser known tracks from some of the industry’s best known acts.
The CD kicks off with perhaps my favorite track, “Theme from New York, New York,” made famous by ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Virtually unrecognizable from the original, this version imparts a raw grittiness that fits it well. The Hank Williams classic gets the female treatment on “Ramblin’ (Wo)Man and it works quite well, infusing a ragged determination not absent in the original, but definitely different. The George Jackson penned “Aretha, Sing One For Me,” is one of the true upbeat songs here, enlisting an organ to liven things up considerably.
Understandably, Marshall can’t hold a candle to Janis Joplin on “A Woman Left Lonely,” but that’s not to say her version is unlistenable. There are far too many women that try to completely redo Janis’ stuff with horrendous results; Marshall opts for a more subdued version that conveys the same emotion JJ nailed so indelibly. “Song to Bobby” and “Metal Heart” are the only two new tracks here, yet they fit the overall feel of controlled despondency hinting at hope down the road. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” returns the organ to the mix and creates, quite frankly, the blues-iest sound on the CD, a great way to end the disc.
For those willing to shell out a few extra ducats, a limited-edition silver foil deluxe package also was made available with a five-song bonus disc with covers ranging from Nick Cave’s “Breathless” to Moby Grape’s “Naked, If I Want To.” The material strays a bit wider than most of Jukebox, but the conceit is the same, so it makes sense to include it for rabid fans. Certainly worth the additional shekels and arguably better than some of what she offers on the regular disc.
Personally, I like what Cat Power and her Dirty Delta Blues Band has done here. However, I won’t believe the general public truly has been served until they delve into 80s pop. Sure, she’s got some great numbers here, but who really will feel satiated until she covers “Girls Just Want to Have Fun?” Nobody. Not even your grandfather.
For your listening pleasure, here’s a bit of Ms. Marshall to get your juices flowing.