Cat Power Karaokes in ‘Jukebox’

Musician Chan Marshall, more popularly known by her stage name ‘Cat Power,’ has always had a big name in the indie music scene. Ever since her success with the breakthrough album, ‘What Would the Community Think,’ her fans have come to expect a sense of eerie wonder from her trademark deep ethereal voice and sparse songwriting that borrows heavily from folk, blues and jazz. As unique as her style may seem, she is not modest about where she gets her inspirations. This is most evident in her live performances, where she is known to break down into her own rendition of old classics. She even released ‘The Covers Record’ in 2000, which included covers of artists far and wide from Bob Dylan, to the Rolling Stones, and even the Velvet Underground. Now in January 2008, she comes back with her eighth studio album, ‘Jukebox,’ also a collection of covers.
And what an appropriate title it is for this album. As with her previous cover album, ‘Jukebox’ is a collection of her own renditions of old classics like Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York,’ and even re-workings of two of her older songs.
But it’s not just the selection of songs that makes ‘Jukebox’ what it is. The hole-in-the-wall production sound that surrounds all 12 tracks gives the whole album a feeling of being in a rundown roadside bar.
The opening track, ‘New York, New York,’ features all there is to know about this album. Above its bass-drum-dominated, walking 4/4 tempo accompanied by bluesy electric keyboard, Marshall’s voice travels like a sultry ghost across ear lobes. There’s a slight rasp to it and the way it echoes within its space is enough to send chills up one’s spine upon its first listen. Typical Cat Power.
While her usual style works well with most songs, other songs made are considerably less enjoyable because of this approach. She never seems to go above and beyond what she is used to doing.
This is most evident in the Hank Williams classic ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ covered by Marshall as ‘Ramblin’ (Wo)man.’ The track throws away all the rhythmic honky-tonk flavor of the original song for a relatively boring arrangement. It is good, but definitely overshadowed by the original.
Cat Power’s ‘Jukebox’ is a decent album if you’re looking for an adult contemporary album along the lines of John Legend. But if you’re expecting something more innovative or upbeat, you are probably better off listening to the originals.
Suggested sampling: ‘New York,’ ‘Silver Stallion,’ or ‘Song For Bobby.’