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Review

Marshall’s eclectic sound on full display with Jukebox album

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February 21, 2008

Chan Marshall isn’t Bob Dylan.  The iconic song master has written the greatest songs for nearly 60 years, while Marshall, at 36 years old, hasn’t touched half that. So when Marshall covers Dylan’s classic, “I Believe in You,” you would expect that she, like most musicians (with exceptions, like Jack White), would crumble underneath a style so monstrously beautiful (check out the “I’m Not There” soundtrack if you don’t believe me).

Prepare yourself, because Marshall creates fireworks. Perhaps it’s similar heartache, Marshall’s cool, smoky voice and Dylan’s way of singing through melodies, or maybe it’s how Marshall tackles the song—taking her own route and channeling her inner demons—rather than imitating Dylan. No matter. She is a master of song, finding the innermost soul and peeling it to the core.

That’s how her brilliance shines in Jukebox, her second album of (almost) entirely covers.  Through her music alter-ego, Cat Power, she takes a multitude of songs and strips them to nearly unrecognizable tunes. “New York” stands out as the most noticeable in this respect, as Marshall completely ignores Frank Sinatra and the traditional big band/Rat Pack path and turns it into something utterly sexy.

No big bangs here, just a small drum kit, a guitar and a cool electric piano.  She takes it easy with James Brown’s “Lost Someone,” using only guitar and a wood block. “Ramblin (Wo)Man,” a tune made famous by Hank Williams, forgoes the country vibe—a wise move, considering the song seems to be an argument with herself, exercising personal demons haunting her since she was a child, having escaped drug abuse and insecurity.

Not everything on Jukebox is a cover. Marshall crafted two originals on the album, “Metal Heart,” a powerfully eerie confessional about resisting the urge to lock up your deepest emotions to resist pain, and “Song to Bobby,” an upbeat (for Cat Power) song: Marshall’s ode to Dylan. “I want to tell you/I always wanted to tell you/that I never had the chance to tell you/the feeling in my from the beginning to my time of day” she says, “You were singing the songs in my head that I wanted to scream out loud.”  It’s a charming, special song for someone who Marshall has an adoring admiration for.

Jukebox does have a tendency to sound same-y after a while, since the band rarely strays from the guitar/drum/piano line up, but clocking in at under forty minutes, it really doesn’t matter.  When Marshall sings Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” and you hear her soft voice whisper “Blue, here is a shell for you/Inside you’ll hear a sigh/a foggy lullaby/There is your song from me,” you’ll fall into her spell and say, “thank you.”

Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.