- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cat Power

Jukebox

Matador

The release of “Jukebox” is another step in the mainstreaming of Chan Marshall, the Southern-born chanteuse who records under the name Cat Power.

Miss Marshall first came to the attention of the New York hipster scene in the early 1990s as a spirited, and frequently inebriated, singer of intense, personal and edgy songs.

But here, as was the case with her 2006 album, “The Greatest,” she shows she has said goodbye to her wild-child ways and taken on a new identity as a kind of alt-rock cabaret star.

For “Jukebox,” her eighth studio album and her second consisting mostly of covers, Miss Marshall assembled a small, accomplished band of fellow alt-rock veterans: Jim White of the Dirty Three on drums, Lizard Music’s Erik Paparozzi on bass, Judah Bauer of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on guitar and one-time District local Gregg Foreman of the Delta 72 on keyboard.

Performing as the Dirty Delta Blues Band, the group provides more than solid backing. The musicians apply a simple, rootsy approach to a disparate array of songs, finding common ground between tunes such as “New York, New York” and Joni Mitchell's “Blue.”

The sounds are rock ‘n’ roll cliches — callused fingertips sliding conspicuously on steel strings, the lonely freight-train howl of an electric organ — but the band parcels them out with restraint, crafting a mix that is fresh and appealing even as it harks back to a time before rock ‘n’ roll.

Miss Marshall again pillages the Bob Dylan songbook. She recorded “Paths of Victory” for her 2000 album, “The Covers Record,” and assayed a lackluster version of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” for the soundtrack to the recent film “I’m Not There.”

On “Jukebox,” she covers “I Believe in You” from the gospel record “Slow Train Coming.” Miss Marshall clearly has an affinity for Mr. Dylan’s music and career, but she fails to mine anything interesting from the verse-chorus-verse structure.

The result, as was the case on the “I’m Not There” soundtrack, is mimetic and dull. Fortunately, it’s followed on “Jukebox” by an original number dedicated to Mr. Dylan — “Song to Bobby.”

Thematically it echoes both Mr. Dylan’s early ode to his idol, “Song to Woody,” and his later song about meeting Elvis Presley (“Went to See the Gypsy”) and draws on the open tuning Mr. Dylan used so effectively in his early career as an acoustic troubadour.

The song “New York, New York,” written by Fred Ebb and John Kander and made famous by Frank Sinatra, would be unrecognizable if not for the iconic lyrics. Once a hymn to irrepressible optimism, the song here is re-imagined by Miss Marshall as a drum-driven dirge.

Her haunted voice locates a weird ambivalence and fatalism in the words “It’s up to you, New York” that did not previously come across. Even better is the album’s closing track, Joni Mitchell's “Blue” sung over the ghostly sustain of a church organ; sounding less like a folk lament than a 19th-century spiritual updated for electric instruments.