Feb 082008

Under glass?

Please stay with me tonight until I fall asleep. I’m afraid I may be entering the belly of the beast. Unlike you, I’ve never gotten into Cat Power. I’ve got enough of my own troubles; I don’t need to live vicariously through hers. The sultry voice only goes so far with me. The coffee-table soul she’s been getting into over the last couple of releases is better than what she used to do, but I don’t entertain too often. Those few I do entertain want to check out the real stuff. So here goes, an Insta-Review of Cat Power’s second album of covers. Is the well running dry, or is she revisiting her newfound roots? Either way, I’m scared.

Click here to open Phawker’s streaming audio and listen along. Read along and let me influence your first impressions!

“New York”: I’ve read a little bit about this. Listen to the soul in her voice, man! The South produced hundreds of arrangements like this, most of them filler for bouffant-sporting, closeted bottle blonds. Jeez – what happened to this song? It’s over already! Can she make it there, can she make it anywhere? Truth be told the interesting parts of that song were running out of steam after she’d sang the opening verse. Good move, Chan!

“Ramblin Woman”: She seems committed to this sultry soul-singer routine, doesn’t she? Songs about ramblin’, no good types got old fast when white British guys were playing the part in the ’70s. Should I be impressed by the artist or songwriter she’s covering? Let me see if I can fit in a quick check… Ah, a Hank Williams cover – and she’s turnin’ the gender on its head. Crazy wild! Not a terrible song to have playing in the background, but this is all I’m focused on.

“Metal Heart”: Here’s another upbeat number. I wish I’d thought sooner to pay attention to the lyrics instead of waiting to see if the three piano chords would go anywhere musically. The drummer’s rocking out a little bit while a reverbed guitar wails like a tomcat. I know she’s been glamming up her Look a bit the last few years. Good move, because I’d have to concentrate on something beside the music should I ever find myself in the audience at one of her shows. That was like a Tori Amos reject.

“Silver Stallion”: This quiet, folky number is off to a good start. Her voice isn’t drenched in reverb. Maybe she’ll string together a run of straightforward songs like this. I really like this one.

“Aretha, Sing One for Me”: I little heavy on the reverb, but the guitar coming out of my left speaker is cool. And getting cooler as it builds! This one’s good, like a Faces deep cut from Ooh La La. Maybe this is the run of strong songs I’ve been waiting for!

“Lost Someone”: Come on, Chan, step out from that murky reverb again. This isn’t a bad performance, but it’s produced like background music in a roadhouse scene from a Tom Cruise movie. Right about now Tom is hoisting some big-jawed, All-American Girl onto the jukebox, where he slowly plants one on her. A wasted opportunity!

“I Believe in You”: The Stonesy guitars are back, baby! This has got to be the show stopper! All right…I’m waiting…waiting for the drums to break out of that coffee-table “When the Levee Breaks” beat, but it ain’t happening. The electric piano is cool, and the guitar keeps playing good stuff, but along with Chan’s voice it’s all under glass, all in the background while Cruise dry humps that healthy woman on the jukebox. Dylan‘s already had enough people stick his songs under glass.

“Song to Bobby”: This one’s off to a real good start, sounds a bit like some Nick Drake song I like. This one sounds more like a Bob Dylan song than her cover of a Dylan song. I’m sure Chan will be pleased to know that after all these years I’m beginning to see the light. Is it time to forgive and move forward? I honestly wish I was bummed out about something at the moment. I’d dim the lights and stop letting my mind ramble. The little piano and guitar interlude is perfect. I see she cowrote this one. Good move!

“Don’t Explain”: A Billie Holiday cover, eh? This may bring out a lot of the affectations that I don’t even like in the original artist’s music. As this plods along ceremoniously, I realize it’s the museum-piece production and arrangement that wears on me so quickly. There are a couple of gems on this album, a couple of strong songs that are lost in this Lonesome Highway sound, and only a couple of songs better left dumped off my hard drive. This one’s getting dumped, and it shouldn’t be this boring. There’s only so much reverence and reverbed vibrato guitar one cover can handle.

“Woman Left Lonely”: A Janis Joplin cover is a fitting move. Cat Power would be wise to learn from Janis and just let it all hang out more often. This cover’s got “slow burn” written all over it. I don’t think I’m familiar with the Jopin cover, but I sense that by this point, she’s edging into that catfight range that’s her bread and butter. Chan sounds more like a subdued Elton John here. Nope, no catfight vocals from Chan. This baby’s outta here.

“Blue”: Here’s a Joni Mitchell song I know well and like. I fear the bubbling Memphis organ that’s underneath the piano part so far. She’s pretty much avoided the coffee table Memphis soul arrangements of her last album and her Dylan cover from I’m Not There. So far the organ is keeping in its place, but the song is too. Joni is front and center on her own songs, not meandering in the background. I’m not digging this cover. She might as well overdub “nightclub chatter,” like in Lou Reed’s “Berlin”. Enough now, Chan. Please leave me with a good taste in my mouth… OK, she kept that organ under control!


  One Response to “Insta-Review: Cat Power, Jukebox

  1. As affectations go, Billie Holidays are among my favorite.

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