On Cat Power’s last album, The Greatest, she tried her hand at mid-century southern soul, surrounded by a backing band of back-in-the-day southern musicians. It was an album of originals that felt like a collection of old-timey covers: Cat Power in Memphis.
Jukebox, while similar to The Greatest in sound and feel, really IS a collection of old-timey covers, her second in a decade (after 2000’s The Covers Record). Backed by a band that includes members of the Blues Explosion and Delta 72, Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall) slouches her way through a compelling and maddening and frequently remarkable grab-bag of songs ranging from the obvious (Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”, Bob Dylan’s “I Believe In You”) to the powerfully strange (“New York, New York”, which is poorly mixed, but a bad idea in any case).
Marshall has an extraordinary voice, built both for sadness and remove: She’s either incapable of irony, or incapable of anything else. Jukebox is comprised of vast, arid patches of affect broken up by occasional tiny outbursts of emotion. Her rendering of “Aretha, Sing One For Me” (popularized by R&B singer George Jackson) is simply sublime, as is an almost-snappy take on James Brown’s “Lost Someone”.
Elsewhere she’s too careful, too grave, to make these songs her own. Unlike The Greatest, which was bona fide to its bones, Jukebox occasionally feels like something made by a downtown hipster surrounded by other downtown hipsters who are merely playing at a sound, instead of inhabiting it.