The cover version has unfortunately become much maligned over the years. Whereas bands were once judged by how well they could perform certain blues, R&B, Lennon/McCartney or Dylan songs and could gain kudos from picking up early on an up and coming songwriting talent, the rise of the singer/songwriter (and the extra profits from the publishing royalties) has meant the proliferation of home-grown material to the near total exclusion of pre-existing songs.
Thankfully, Cat Power, though with a proven pedigree as an accomplished songwriter, notably on her previous album of original songs The Greatest, has always peppered her live appearances and recording sessions with songs that she has felt a connection with, regardless of who wrote them, and began a whole album of them a decade ago, The Covers Record, released in 2000.
This album was conceived as a sequel, and was originally going to be called Covers 2 (and still is, on the CD Text of my copy at least). Its final title Jukebox still modestly places the emphasis on the song rather than the singer, but its major difference from The Covers Record, which was mostly Cat Power on her own, is the presence of a band, the Dirty Delta Blues Band, featuring major players including Judah Bauer from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Jim White from the Dirty Three. The sound of the band, fleshed out on some tracks by guests of the calibre of Mabon Hodges (an integral part of The Greatest) and Spooner Oldham, session veterans from Memphis and Muscle Shoals respectively, is not a million miles from that on The Greatest, though there is a deliberate ragged informality in the proceedings here that sets it apart.
It would be quite a jukebox, too, if it featured the versions that inspired Chan, with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Jessie Mae Hemphill. Not all the songs were known to me, but favourites such as James Brown's Lost Someone and Joni Mitchell's Blue, a brave choice, become revitalized through her translucent performances. A Woman Left Lonely, too, is wonderful, and as it was written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, that is presumably Spooner that we can hear on it. The shortlist for this album included the Dan Penn-Chips Moman song Dark End Of The Street, and I cannot be alone in thinking how wonderful that must have sounded, and as Spooner Oldham was the pianist on James Carr's original version, it is likely he would have played on that one, also. I'm not familiar with George Jackson's original of Aretha, Sing One For Me, but as it was recorded for Hi Records back in 1972 it is quite likely that Mabon Hodges was the guitarist on it, and it is good to see Chan recognizing and acknowledging the heritage these guys bring to her record.
I don't see Cat Power as a keen follower of rules and regulations, so on this album it is no surprise to find, on this album of covers, two of her own songs. I suppose one of these, Metal Heart, is technically a cover, since she had previously recorded it on Moon Pix. The other, Song To Bobby, an album highlight, neatly follows Dylan's I Believe In You.
A reviewer in (I think) Mojo, wrote of The Covers Record that Cat Power doesn't cover songs, she uncovers them, and despite the less sparse settings of this album this happily remains the case.
A limited edition of this CD exists with a second 5-track disc, which you may wish to consider as an alternative.