February 01, 2008

Cat Power's Beguiling Jukebox

Like some wistful Southern novel, the music of Cat Power can transport you to a place where time crawls, like a lazy summer evening where the smell of sugarcane wafts through the sticky air. On her latest album, she blends echoes of the past with more modern expression – including her own – into a succulent collection of songs called Jukebox.

Ostensibly a sequel to The Covers Record, Jukebox includes songs written or made famous by artists as diverse as James Brown, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan. As well, Cat Power contributes “Metal Heart,” which appeared in its original incarnation on her album, Moon Pix, and “Song To Bobby,” a mesmerizing new track that is supposedly a tribute to Dylan.

Although a collection of covers invariably calls for comparisons between new and original (or most familiar) versions of the songs, such attention is not altogether necessary to appreciate this album. In fact, Cat Power invests so much of her own temperament and technique into these songs that some bear only minimal resemblance to their predecessors, thus taking on an entirely distinctive sound.

An ethereal air runs through songs like “Ramblin’ (Wo)man” and “Blue” as the singer moans to music that hovers like a nebulous mist. On “I Believe In You,” arguably the album’s boldest cut, she muscles her way through a writhing groove hinged on a riff worthy of Keith Richards. And musically subtler though no less vocally daring, other tracks are steeped in unadulterated soul, such as “Aretha, Sing One For Me” and “A Woman Left Lonely,” which allow Cat Power to stretch her voice with its low and lustful drawl.

Like its title suggests, Jukebox comprises songs from different genres and artists. Unlike a Wurlitzer though, this music collection coalesces into a cohesive album drawn together by one breathtaking voice. Cat Power treats these songs not as works to be duplicated but as templates from which to render a singularly creative and beguiling album.

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