I love a good cover song. They used to be more prevalent, but as music became as much a business rather than an art, they started to get stigmatized. Which is a shame, as Cover songs go back centuries. That’s how music used to be shared, people singing spreading the songs they heard throughout the land. Thankfully, Chan Marshall understands the importance of a cover song, and the power or reinterpretation. One just has to look to her rendition of “Satisfaction ( I Can’t Get NO) to see how she make the known in to something unrecognizable.
This is the third Cat Power collection of cover songs. The first arrived in 2000, and was a stripped down affair, with its power coming from her magnetic voice, and that drawl that would transform the words of Dylan, Jagger and The Velvet Underground into contemplative meditations. Her second collection , “Jukebox,” came out in 2008, and was a brassier affair. It had the most swagger we had seen from Ms. Marshall up to that point.
“Covers” completes the trilogy and it’s the most exciting of the three. It unfolds like a walk through her own discography, with the unique sounds of each record being borrowed for different tracks. The soul she discovered on “The Greatest” is here, as is the sounds she explored on “Sun.” It plays like an assessment of her personal musical history.
This batch of songs maybe features the most well known selections, with cuts from Lana Del Rey, The Replacements, Bob Seger, and Nico. But she still know how to find lost gems and give them a polish — like the Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields Collaboration “Pa Pa Power,” which delivers some of the most timely lyrics of the whole album.
The instrumentation choices throughout come close to stealing the show - Like the way the percussion kicks in during the last fifteen seconds of “A Pair Of Brown Eyes,” or the dark piano and ominous guitar that create the foreboding march of “I Had a Dream Joe.” My favorite is the country deconstruction on display in “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels,” with its cool upright base and finger snaps, as the traditional pedal steel is stretched to more of a bluesy slide sound. It just oozes a playful confidence that doesn’t get discussed enough when we talk about Cat Power. No matter the song, Chan Marshall is the star and what makes these songs work so well. She understands them personally, and each represent different sides of this complicated musician.
One of the common themes that gets explored on the cover collections is the evolution of self. Songs from previous Cat Power albums get dusted off and reexamined. “Jukebox” had both “Metal Heart” and “Naked , If I want.” Here, she takes the track “Hate” from her 2006 record “The Greatest” and transforms it into “Unhate.” It’s a powerful moment for those who followed the Cat Power Journey. While “The Greatest” is one of her more accessible and bright albums, “Hate” is a dark song tucked in the back of the track list, filled with self-loathing and dark wishes. Here, Chan Marshall reclaims it by acknowledging not just where she was when she wrote it, but how far she’s come. It’s not a cautionary tale, but a badge of a hard fought battle won. That’s the magic of these cover collections, through the words of others, even her younger self, Chan Marshall creates a deeply personal document the pulls at your heart, and stays with you for days.
I preach this a lot, but for this album I need to call it out: take this record for a spin on headphones. Like a drop of water into that neat scotch, the subtleties come into full bloom.