There’s nothing in the world like a Cat Power cover version. The artist also known as Chan Marshall made herself known as one of the 21st century’s finest interpreters of other artists’ material – her re-imaginings as emotionally devastating as they are decidedly dreamlike – at the very beginning of the millennium.
On 2000’s ‘The Covers Record’, she found new elegance in trad-rock and butch blues – from the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ to The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found A Reason’ – before doubling down on 2008’s ‘Jukebox’, which made woozy inroads into country and folk with torchy and twinkling takes on classics by Hank Williams, Joni Mitchell and country blues legend Jessie Mae Hemphill.
Initially an answer to a time in Marshall’s life when she felt more at ease singing other people’s songs than her own, her cover versions now possess a strength all of their own, with the self-produced ‘Covers’ setting itself apart from its predecessors by veering into the modern mainstream. Here material by Frank Ocean (‘Bad Religion’) and Lana Del Rey (‘White Mustang’) appears alongside the more long-established likes of Nick Cave (‘I Had A Dream, Joe’), Jackson Browne (‘These Days’) and The Pogues (‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’). Marshall has carefully selected each song to reflect a personal memory.
A tender, sparse take on Billie Holiday’s ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ was a favourite of her grandmother’s and a mournful, piano-led, rendering of The Replacements’ ‘Here Comes a Regular’ reminds Marshall of spending her final dollar to play the song on a New York City jukebox. Sadness is an art, and here Cat Power does it exceptionally well.
Yearning protest anthem ‘Pa Pa Power’ might not sound instantly familiar, but a member of Dead Man’s Bones, the band who first released it in 2009, will. A Ryan Gosling original, it’s a one of the album’s least downbeat offerings, having been part of Marshall’s live repertoire since the Occupy Wall Street movement and on which she rousingly – and rather convincingly – calls to “Burn the streets / Burn the cars”. Despite the addition of an overwhelmingly funky backing band, her version of ‘White Mustang’ is perhaps even more melancholic than her pal and touring buddy Del Rey’s 2017 original, while the minimalist ‘Bad Religion’ is barely recognisable; beefed up, glistening and with a twisting new melody.
Often, cover records are dismissed as simply a bit of fun or as an indulgent aside to an artists’ original output, but when Cat Power does it, it’s nothing less than soul-nourishing.
Release date: January 14
Record label: Domino Records