While nowhere as sprawling, haunted and ambitious as her 1998 breakthrough Moon Pix, Cat Power’s latest, The Covers Record, finds Chan Marshall bewitching listeners with a quiet, understated charm. Both elegant and raw, The Covers Record draws one in slowly, nearly to be dismissed as an uninspired underachievement.
From the Stones’ “Satisfaction”, to Michael Hurley’s “The Devil’s Daughter” and “Swee Dee Dee”, to Dylan’s “Paths Of Victory”, Marshall encants, intones, drones slow-mo folk steeped in rockist patterned repetition. In such instances, it’d be welcome for this colorful voice to bust out of the corset of restraint, to wail. But as with theater — where it’s far more climactic for an actor to work not to cry rather than to actually burst into tears — the stylist’s voice wavers on the edge of something sharp and broken, a rusty and worn facade of cultivated boredom serving as ineffective protection. Ever so quietly, it seems to speak to the brokenness in each of us.
Marshall’s quirky sense of humor is evident in the inclusion of one original song “In This Hole”. Former beau Bill Callahan (Smog) has made a lasting imprint as she attests on the sadcore ballad “Red Apples”. And yet, the best reasons for The Covers Record to claim space on any spinner are the telling cut-and-paste bits of the Velvet Underground’s “I Found A Reason” and a Nina Simone-inspired “Wild Is The Wind”. Never before has the word “mandolins” ached with more yearning or shattered so many bittersweet hopes.