Chan Marshall, who’s performed as Cat Power since the mid-90s (she adopted it from the name of her first band), refreshes even the most weathered motifs with her smokestack voice. While she’s amassed a formidable catalog of soulful originals, she’s most renowned for refracting other artists’ radio hits and obscure B sides through her singular lens. Earlier this year, Marshall released Covers, a spiritual counterpart to her desolate 2000 collection The Covers Record and rip-roaring 2008 release Jukebox. The new record compiles two original tunes plus ten interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as Frank Ocean, the Pogues, Billie Holiday, and Bob Seger
Marshall challenges herself by synthesizing disparate eras and genres into a cohesive body of work, mining moments of drama from each track. Her bustling translation of “Pa Pa Power,” a ghostly anthem by Dead Man’s Bones (a defunct Ryan Gosling duo project inspired by Disney’s Haunted Mansion), is a career high-water mark. She transforms Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ 1992 track “I Had a Dream Joe” from a macabre screed into a reverberant incantation, and she pares down Iggy Pop’s sorrowful, synth-powered late-70s cut “Endless Sea” until it’s a slinky missive.
Marshall has given herself the cover treatment too. The Covers Record featured a new version of “In This Hole,” from her 1996 album What Would the Community Think, and here she presents a reworking of “Unhate,” off 2006’s The Greatest. The original is an anemic acoustic track, but Marshall transforms the marrow-deep self-hatred of its verses into a triumphant reclamation of self, chanting “I hate myself and I want to die” until the words ring hollow and she sounds like she’s defeated her demons. Cover songs are often denigrated as exercises of pomp and laziness, and in less capable hands they’re often little more than set fillers or B sides. But Marshall sings with such conviction that each song on Covers—whether she wrote the lyrics or not—could’ve bled from her fingertips.
Cat Power Arsun opens. Wed 8/3, 8:30 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $42.50-$75, 17+