When a songwriter, even a great one, records an album of other people’s songs, it’s almost never a good sign: Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, Robert Forster’s I Had a New York Girlfriend, and John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll aren’t ever going to be considered crowning artistic achievements. If the artist isn’t suffering from writer’s block or a temporary lapse of judgment, usually he’s just fucking with his audience. But Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) Marshall, the Georgia native who’s made five albums under the name Cat Power, takes nary a wrong step on The Covers Record (Matador). Her singing has matured from an awkward warble into a gorgeous, flickering moan, and she’s equally at home riding the melodic updrafts of Moby Grape’s “Naked, if I Want To” and the gradually unwinding cadences of Michael Hurley’s “Sweedeedee.” Marshall also has an unerring instinct for just what to leave out of a song. She strips Lou Reed’s sarcasm from the Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason” and uncovers the tune’s unabashed heart; she spotlights the obsessive carnal longing of “Wild Is the Wind” by dropping Nina Simone’s bombastic, melodramatic delivery down to a whisper; and she purges the adolescent posturing from the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by ditching the original verse-chorus structure in favor of an acrid blues progression. Marshall’s understated approach extends to the album’s instrumentation; previously she’s been backed by members of Two Dollar Guitar and the Dirty Three, but on most of The Covers Record she’s alone, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar or piano. That’s also how she’ll perform at these shows. Friday, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4454 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stephano Giovanni.