Recordings: Cat Power – The Greatest

    Confession: Ever since this reviewer was but a wee girl (well, almost), she dreamed that one day Chan Marshall, A.K.A. Cat Power, would get together with Elliott Smith. In their perfect love, they would combine vulnerability and tender, subdued despair into a ball of naked emotion unsurpassed since the late Nick Drake. Of course, the plan could very well have backfired, their bliss making their music’s broken beauty evaporate away. Sadly, we’ll never know, as Elliot Smith’s depression led to a tragic end; so it’s real hard not to give hearty blessings to Marshall for taking the recovered-tortured-artist route.

    Cat Power – The Greatest

    Still, coming from the woman who once turned “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into a tearjerker, prepare for whiplash. Her old bare-bone, trembling piano/guitar arrangements often sounded like she was about to break down and stop — and reportedly, on stage, she often has — but her latest, The Greatest, is (comparatively) saner and sweeter than sipping Sunkist on the front porch.

    And in good company, too. The native southerner went home to record with some of the musicians whose soul she was nursed on, talents who have played with the likes of Al Green and Booker T. and the MG’s. The result of this concept is polished, professional and pretty, but doesn’t always stick. Marshall’s on-edge voice drowns in this studio perfection, at times dwindling her to the inevitable Norah Jones comparison, yet she manages to regain control in spurts. The opening title track and the closing “Love and Communication” are eerily graceful bookmarks proving that the concept can bear fruit, while “Hate” is a throwback, all bare guitar and stripped voice, featuring the repeated line “I hate myself and I want to die.” Somehow, that’s hard to buy. Not like the new, palatable Cat Power, which, for better or worse, should buy the erstwhile shy performer a whole different fanbase. Good luck out there, little one.

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