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Chan Marshall Finds, And Sings, The Sad Songs
an editorial from sonicnet.com

sonicnet.com Editor in Chief Michael Goldberg writes:

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, is sometimes so low key -- just plain low --on The Covers Record that she's almost not there.
At first, you have to work at it.  You have to pay attention.  You have to turn up the volume.  And then turn it up some more.  Lean into the speakers.  Or put on headphones.  And then really pay attention.
For some, it might not be worth all the time it could take to get to the bottom of The Covers Record.
I think it is.
Chan Marshall says she doesn't even have the records of the songs she covers on her album.  Just tapes she got from friends.
There's something charming about that.  Uncalculated.  "I feel these songs in some ways are just like lullabies,"  Marshall told writer Lydia Vanderloo during a recent interview for Addicted to Noise.  
When I first got her album, before I put it on, I looked at the song titles.  I was amazed.  How did this young woman come across the obscure Moby Grape song "Naked If I Want To"?
The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" -- a huge hit for the group in 1965 -- is, perhaps, more obvious, until you hear the spin Marshall puts on it.  They way she sings "Baby, baby, baby come back/Can't you see I'm on a losing streak" could stop you in your tracks, could make you (as critic Greil Marcus has written about a different song) pull off to the side of the road, if it came on the car stereo, and just sit there and listen.
Marshall covers Lou Reed's Velvet Underground classic "I Found a Reason," and two songs Bob Dylan recorded, "Kingsport Town" and his own "Paths of Victory."  There are more obscure songs, like "Troubled Waters" and Marshall's own "In This Hole."
There is a performance of a song here that just slays me.  Marshall barely plays an acoustic guitar to support her vocal.  This is some of what she sings, a confessional:
"I must be one of the devil's daughters/Sometimes it's like chains/ Sometimes I hang my head in shame/ When people see me/ They scandalize my name/ I'm going down to the devil's waters/ I'm gonna drown in the troubled waters/ It's coming 'round my soul."
Her guitar -- a few notes here, a chord there -- is stark, yet hypnotic.  You could get lost in this song and never find your way out.  
"Naked If I Want To," as recorded by Moby Grape, was a celebration of freedom.  Here, even though it is, like the others, stripped down, there is a stridency or maybe assertiveness to the way Marshall plays the chords, delivers the words.  "Would you let me, walk down your street, naked if I want to," goes Jerry Miller's lyric, which he wrote so long ago, in the mid-60s, in San Francisco, when all was peace and love.
There's a lot of darkness on this record.  Loneliness.  Desperation.  Sadness.  And love.  It's as if singing these songs is a way of exorcising some demons.  By giving voice to the fears or the doubts or the insecurities, they can be overcome.  
Marshall sings folk singer/songwriter Michael Hurley's "Sweedeedee".  "I know everybody/Has a little hard luck/Sometimes/I know lately/ I've been having mine."
Hearing Chan Marshall share that with us is comforting.  Like, hey people, it's OK, even it its bad now, it'll pass.  And it will.


Copyright 2000 Michael Goldberg All rights reserved
(Sun, May 7, 2000  9:01 AM EDT)