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Jukebox Deluxe Edition
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Jukebox is a sure sign that the Cat Power we once knew-the reluctant performer, too shy to get onstage without a bellyful of whiskey-is dead and buried. Best understood as a sort of mix of two previous albums, 2006s The Greatest--a real coming of age record, lush and powerful, recorded with some of the greats of Memphis soul-and 2000s sparse set of reinterpretations The Covers Record, Jukebox finds an assured, husky-voiced Chan paying tribute to some of the songs that inspired her, backed by her new ensemble, the Dirty Delta Blues band. This is by no means a predictable set, however: the opening "New York, New York" is reinterpreted as a sultry, smouldering blues number, fulsome in instrumentation but stark in its lack of show; while James Browns broiling Live at the Apollo cut "Lost Someone" is pared back into a swaying lovers exhortation led along on jazzy drums. The picks veer towards the classic rock end of the spectrum--Dylan, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams, Joni Mitchell-but there seems little urge here to gain some novelty laughs from a sudden flash of recognition. Rather, Marshall seems to dig right into the heart of the lyrics, looking for aching hearts and emotional epiphanies. It's worth a dime or two of anyones money. -Louis Pattison
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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.Read more ›
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The point of this review, however, is to say that if you're a fan of her earlier albums, be sure you get this deluxe version with the extra E.P., because it's actually better than the main album. Here you find the Patsy Cline classic "She's Got You," but Chan's delivery makes even Patsy's version sound happy in comparison, plus an epic and meandering and devastating version of "Angelitos Negros." The EP has an overall downbeat vibe that recalls the stripped down and minimal Cat Power of old.
"Jukebox" is what I call jazz and blues for today's generation of music lovers. This album is dark and downbeat with shimmering pulses of excitement. From beginning to end each song captures you and keeps you listening.
The album opens with a understated yet vaguely bombastic cover of "New York, New York" which Chan calls "New York". Her voice is soothing as she sings "start spreading the news". This is "NY,NY" like I've never heard it before. While others merely have copied the original, Chan takes the song and gives it a new life and makes it completely her own.
Ramblin' (Wo)man" is Chan's take on Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man" again she wins and makes even this classic her own.
Chan Marshall's voice, as understated as it is, has a great presence. Vocally Chan is not in the league as singers such as Nina Simone, Karen Carpenter, Annie Lennox or Aretha Franklin, though Chan possesses a charm all her own. She has her own sound and style which is inimitable and for that alone Chan is one of today's greatest vocal stylists. Her voice carries a gruff yet smooth melancholic confidence. She has a raw intimacy that nobody else on today's music scene can quite match.
At this early stage my favorite track is "Don't Explain" which has long been a Billie Holiday classic. Chan takes this blues staple and completely turns it around while retaining the song's underlying mournful blues feel. Chan's performance of this song, unique as it is, is every bit as effective as Billie Holiday's. Billie had her style and Chan has her own way of presenting jazz and blues to a society of music listeners waiting for something new and freshly exciting. Cat Power (Chan Marshall) fills the bill and succeeds.
That said, I can't quite give this recording five stars. It's a cover album, after all, and perhaps some songs should best be left UNcovered. And the leadoff track, "New York, New York," is suddenly over before Ms. Power has settled into it. But there's a lot to like on "Jukebox." So, relax...and enjoy the "ride."