Monday, January 23, 2006

Living proof

Play it: Cat Power The Greatest (Rhapsody), AOL Album stream

Nearly everyone who's seen Chan Marshall (Cat Power) play live has a story of awkwardness - mine isn't particularly remarkable, but nonetheless revealing. When she opened for Robyn Hitchcock at Bumbershoot in 1999, she had one of 'those' performances. Nothing sounded right to her, she'd stop midway through a song, mumbling about how much it sucked, ultimately giving up on it, until finally, still having time in her set, started playing a couple bars of whatever shouted-out requests came from the audience (yes, even 'Freebird.') You could tell the folks there to see Hitchcock were annoyed as hell by her ("finish a bloody song!" "bring on Robyn!") while her fans were undying in their admiration and support ("you sound great Chan!" "keep playing!") Meanwhile, it seems Marshall's been tricking all of us... apparently, unlike her live shows, she's got her sh*t together. She's never needed a manager, and has produced to albums in a row now that reveal someone far more mature and 'together' then someone familiar with her live antics could ever imagine.

Almost too together, for my taste... almost. Chan Marshall records the album in Memphis with some of the folks responsible for the "Memphis sound" (brothers Teenie & LeRoy Hodges and drummer Steve Potts all played with Al Green in the 70s.) As a result, there's a more soulful underlying sound, even horns popping in here and there, and you can tell that Marshall wants the songs to be bigger then they are as a result. For the most part it works with Marshalls meloncholy meanderings - check out "Living Proof" for... well.. proof, and "Could We" could very well end up being a breakout hit for her. But occasionally it feels like these session musicians' talents aren't being utilized much at all. The middle of The Greatest suffers the most from these misfires, giving off the feeling of coasting until the exciting conclusion. "Empty Shell" feels, well... empty, "Willie" is 6 minutes of the same over and over, and "Where is My Love" sounds like a Ray Lamontagne rip-off, without the benefit of 'the man's vocals or lyricism.

Ultimately, like Ray Lamontagne, it's an album I can recommend to my mom, which is certainly something to say for it. It's the last two songs, though, that made me realize just how good this album could've been. "Hate" sounds like it could've been on one of her earlier records (especially lyrically: "I hate myself and want to die.") Meanwhile, the closing track ("Love and Communication," apparently no reference to Al Green's "Love and Happiness" is implied, regardless of Green's backup band playing,) gives notice of just how the ensemble could've (should've?) been used on this album: the Memphis sound plied into Cat Power's world (NSFW.)

Not even close to as earth-shattering as many would have you to believe, but recommended, nonetheless.

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1 comment:

drake leLane said...

Cat Power The Greatest

01 The Greatest
02 Living Proof
03 Lived in Bars
04 Could We
05 Empty Shell
06 Willie
07 Where is My Love
08 The Moon
09 Island
10 After It All
11 Hate
12 Love and Communication