January 22, 2008

POWER POP:

Clawing Her Way Forward (STEVE DOLLAR, January 22, 2008, NY Sun)

When I lived in Atlanta, [Cat Power]'s home base for much of the 1990s, everyone was in love with her. She had a mini-cult of admirers almost from the start. The collective adoration, which would grow by international degrees during the next decade, was whetted by the incongruous gap between the singer's evident allure and her confounding diffidence. As Patterson Hood, singer for the Athens-based rock band the Drive-By Truckers, once declared in a song called "Cat Power": "You little misguided artist you / You know deep down I'll root for you." No one could have said it better.

Ms. Marshall was far from the most talented vocalist in town. And for all her enigmatic airs, which could mostly be attributed to shyness, she was scarcely the most eccentric figure on the local underground scene (the late Benjamin, drag queen/speed freak frontman for the bands Opal Foxx Quartet and Smoke, took that prize). But performance-wise, she was in a class all her own: There was no one so exasperating. No matter how smoky and mysterious Ms. Marshall's twilight grunge-folk sounded on record, the concerts sucked.

But the albums, beginning with her third release, 1996's "What Would the Community Think?," got better and better. Though she often toured alone, or with a pickup band of musician friends from Atlanta or New York, Ms. Marshall was choosier in the studio. On 1998's "Moon Pix," she initiated a rewarding partnership with the guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White of New Zealand's Dirty Three, and finally became secure in her 3 a.m.-of-the-soul evocations, spectral and quavering like a country porchlight glimpsed through Spanish moss and pre-dawn mist. Her voice hovered in the same vulnerable alto range as the later-emergent Beth Orton, and the folk-based songs, with their ragged edges, were frazzled like Neil Young's. If Ms. Marshall offered a template for a generation of composerly and photogenic Starbucks-friendly singers — from Norah Jones to Feist — whose ambivalence went down smooth as a latte, she proved thornier.

She still does. Ms. Marshall's new record, "Jukebox," out today, capitalizes on the breakthrough of her radiant "The Greatest," the 2006 album that saw the singer step up to the challenge of working with a "real" band — an all-star assortment of such old-school Memphis studio masters as the guitarist Mabon "Teeny" Hodges, who co-wrote many of Al Green's hits, and drummer Steve Potts, from Booker T. & the M.G.s. The project reflected Ms. Marshall's personal obsession with the iconic aura of Memphis as a key site in the civil rights-era South and gave her the chance to mesh her formerly bare-boned songs with those lush, simmering Stax/Volt grooves.



Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2008 8:37 PM
Comments

Amazon recommended to me, but, after listening to previews just didn't get it!
Jeez, I've sent you so many preview CD's superior to her you should be doing a MikeD memorial music post!

Posted by: Mike at January 23, 2008 1:01 AM
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