A minute or so into The Covers Record, the self-explanatorily titled new album by Cat Power (a.k.a. Chan Marshall), it's easy to conclude that you've got the album pegged. Opening by reinterpreting The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" as an impossibly melancholy dirge, Marshall seems to merely be playing the familiar game of reworking classics in incongruous ways. But Marshall, a singer and arranger so talented she seems incapable of hitting a wrong note, is more daring than that: She reinvents "Satisfaction" by stripping it down to a few verses, leaving out the chorus, and bringing out the sadness and alienation within. That sets the tone for The Covers Record nicely, as the songs that follow are often just as unrecognizably altered, filtered through a rich voice reminiscent of everyone from Beth Orton to Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins. The unrelenting bleakness that pervades most of Marshall's music can be oppressive when taken in excess, and The Covers Record's gloom is exacerbated by the fact that its instrumental accompaniment seldom entails more than a piano or guitar (or, during the album's strangely breezy closing moments, an autoharp on "Sea Of Love"). That barren approach can't match the stunning elegance of 1998's Moon Pix, which featured the evocative work of Dirty Three players Mick Turner and Jim White, but it is appropriate: The Covers Record is Marshall laid bare, and it needs no embellishments.

Advertisement