Many artists strive for eccentricity, but few carry it off as convincingly as Chan "Cat Power" Marshall. Over the past few years, her gigs have become legendarily flaky, engrossing marathons of shyness, fragments, works in progress and moments of transcendent beauty. Five years on from her last collection of original songs (1998's Moon Pix
), Marshall has finally managed to rein in the silvery brilliance of these shows.
The 14 pieces on You Are Freestill sound pretty loose and spontaneous, but compared with their rangy, digressive live incarnations they've been pulled into focus, helped by a notable supporting cast featuring Dave Grohl on drums and Eddie Vedder on harmonies. This time, Marshall's impressionistic vision is expressed with a new clarity whilst retaining the understatement and sense of dislocation that's always made it so affecting. Comparisons are sketchy: Marshall has previously been seen as kin to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Smog. Here, though, the elegant punch of "Free" and "He War" provide an American underground counterpart to PJ Harvey, while two outstanding piano blues ("I Don't Blame You" and "Names") are wonderfully evocative of Nina Simone. Confirmation, finally, that Marshall is one of the most original and compelling singer-songwriters around. --John Mulvey