Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cat Power - Jukebox (2008)

3.0 ★/6.0 - 6.9

Covers of songs used to be way more popular. What happened? For many, there's just way too much music now. People's hands are too busy listening to stuff they haven't heard to work up the enthusiasm to devote any significant amount of time to reinterpretations of old music. Still, the occasional cover here and then can be genuinely refreshing provided the artist puts in enough of their own flair to warrant the new version. There are some selections on Jukebox where Chan Marshall definitely shows that talent. It's hard to imagine the need for a re-do of Liza Manelli's "New York" or "Hank Williams' "Ramblin Woman," but Marshall's sexy crooning and her band's lo-key somber jamming strengthen the core progressions in unique ways. Lee Clayton's "Steel Stallion" feels like a completely new song thanks to the benefit of revitalized sound quality. And there simply couldn't be a more appropriate track for her to cover than Joni Mitchell's "Blue". The smooth-jazz organs and chords enhance the original with a ghostly quality and immediacy that that ranks it among Talk Talk's best. But Jukebox is just filled with too much filler. Marshall doesn't seem to have much soul covering James Brown and George Jackson and the "why fix it if it's not broken" philosophy applies to a disappointingly grounded version of her own "Metal Heart". The fact that the strongest track is the only new original Cat Power tune is saying something. The sweetly moving "Song To Bobby" is a much more satisfying tribute to Dylan than the plodding soft-rock revival of "I Believe In You", a selection from one of the worst albums of his career, and is enough to get anyone hankering for a genuine Cat Power follow-up to The Greatest. For an example of a cover album done right, listen to The Covers Record. Songs from that album have entered the regular go-to Cat Power canon and a handful have even been chosen for movie soundtracks. That's the mark of a successful cover project. But at this stage in her career, Jukebox is evidence that an EP would probably have been a better choice.

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