“Start spreading the news…” this is the year of Cat Power. Chan Marshall has been on crooning her solitary heart in the underground since the mid-`90s. But it wasn’t until 2006’s The Greatest when the music world finally began to take notice of this largely unheralded chanteuse. The Greatest may have been Chan Marshall’s introduction into the mainstream but Jukebox is her breakthrough. Marshall’s sultry southern belle vocals and the Dirty Delta Blues Band dynamic rhythms shine bright in this stellar tribute album.
This is Chan’s album. Her voice is the link that grabs you. You can’t help but fall in love with this beauty while you listen to Jukebox. It sounds like she’s serenading you especially on the Latin flavored bonus track, the Roberta Flack cover of “Angelitos Negros.” Hearing Chan sing in Español sent shivers through me. I played Jukebox in my CD player, walking home from the indie record store where I purchased said album, and heard Marshall’s vocals floating beautifully in my ears. I believe that this is the key for any everlasting artist—how the album sounds away from the friendly confines of your room. As I walked I felt like Chan and her angelic voice was right there with me, the soundtrack to my world. That is the mark of true greatness, in which a singer can take songs, and universally make them speak and sing for her audience, regardless of sex, color or creed. Very few artists can attest to what Cat Power has successfully achieved with Jukebox.
I, myself, love me some covers. But it’s difficult to record a memorable cover song. Cat Power has never had trouble in that area. The mark of a truly brilliant cover song is one in which the artist pays homage to the original singer while making it her own, and Chan Marshall has been doing this throughout her evolving career. But there’s something extra on Jukebox that surpasses any of those covers we may have adored before, and that is the addition of the Dirty Delta Blues Band.
The Dirty Delta Blues Band features Dirty Three drummer Jim White, Delta 72 piano and organist Gregg Foreman, Lizard Music bassist Erik Paparazzi, and Blues Explosion guitarist Judah Bauer. Bauer is the other shining star of Jukebox. His bluesy guitar riffs on “Ramblin (Wo)man” lift the cover into unforgettable territory.
Highlights? Wow, too many to name. The just mentioned “Ramblin (Wo)man” is a good start, though. I love the way that Marshall takes Hank Williams’ classic and gives it her own spin. By changing the sex, it turns this song into the lament of someone who’s trapped in her drifting ways. Chan’s vocal makes you emphasize for her fleeting emotions and continue falling for this woman who will undoubtedly break our aching Corazon. Chan also covers herself with an updated version of “Metal Heart” which soars with the Dirty Delta Blues Band backing her up. These rambling musicians are the best thing that may have ever happened to her. They even found a way to amp up her own recordings with a power that lifts this Cat Power gem with an added brilliance that highlights the genius of this underrated songwriter.
I adore the largely acoustic “Silver Stallion,” which shows Marshall stripped and seductive as ever, with Bauer’s wailing guitar enhancing her sexy vocal. Speaking of, Marshall outdoes James Brown with an amazing rendition of “Lost Someone.” You can hear the beauty and ache in Chan’s voice as she calls for the one that she has lost with Bauer’s guitar once again sending her to heights that only few singers have dreamed to discovering. But the one song that makes Jukebox the definitive classic has to be Cat Power’s version of Bob Dylan’s “I Believe in You.” I had preferred Sinead O’Connor’s take until I pressed play and hear Marshall and the Dirty Delta Blues Band’s awesome rendition, with Bauer holding court with his addictive guitar riffs and White’s killer back beats holding it up for Chan to take us home. And does she ever. Marshall does Bobby proud; I can imagine him smile when he eventually hears the next song, which is a definitive tribute to the Bard himself. You will believe me when you hear Marshall’s original ode to Dylan simply called “Song to Bobby.” A stunning number where Chan sings praise to The Bard, one of the many singers, that has helped shape her voice from a far.
It’s also worth picking up the bonus disc, with five extra soon-to-be-classics including Chan’s take on Nick Cave’s “Breathless” and my favorite, Patsy Cline’s heartbreaking jewel turned into aching acoustic epic “She’s Got You.”
Jukebox shows Chan Marshall honoring the artists and songwriters who influenced her unique and soulful voice. And what a homage it is—listen for the piano based beauty that is a definitive praise to Billie Holiday. Not only does Chan Marshall cover these songs, she takes them and makes them over with new arrangements that acknowledge the greatness of the original songs. They, like Cat Power, will live on eternally. Jukebox is the proof that Chan Marshall is here to sway our hearts with a voice that will live on soaring eternally inside of us. Cat Power has such a timeless presence that you will crave hearing this chanteuse serenading softly in your ears again and again.