Cat Power
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Dear Sir , 6/10 (EP)
Myra Lee , 6.5/10
What Would The Community Think , 7.5/10
Moon Pix , 7/10
The Covers Record, 5/10
You Are Free , 7.5/10
The Greatest (2006), 5.5/10
Jukebox (2007), 4/10
Sun (2012), 6.5/10
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Cat Power, the project of Chan Marshall, debuted with the somber and spartan Myra Lee (1996) and the desolate, suffocating What Would The Community Think (1996). The latter formulated an art that took the shy pessimism of auteurs such as Nick Drake and Laura Nyro to a new dimension of introspection. Its sketchy vignettes and self-analyses coined a subtle and almost embarrassing format, that turned the listener into a voyeaur peeping through the keyhole. Marshall was, at the same time, the cameraman and the actress: she played the role of a tormented heroine while she was filming herself playing that role. Her songs were as much acting as they were singing. Marshall's cinematic genius peaked with the song cycle of Moon Pix (1998), enhanced with the ambient, free-form arrangements of Dirty Three's Jim White and Mick Turner. The emotional intensity packed by her half whisper in the gloomy lieder of You Are Free (2003) bordered on the suicidal.
Cat Power is the project of Chan Marshall, originally from the deep South (Georgia), the daughter of a travelling musician, but initiated to music in New York around 1992. The EP Dear Sir (Runt, 1995) was a revelation, thanks to songs such as 3 Times and Headlights, where the protagonist voice is a cross between the rock shaman a` la Patti Smith, a psychedelic contralto a` la Grace Slick and a bored Lydia Lunch. The album is made dark and ominous not only by lyrics that are ferocious to say the least, but also by the funereal arrangements designed by guitarist Tom Foljahn (of Two Dollar Guitar) and drummer Steve Shelley (of Sonic Youth), in particular the hypnotic Redskin tom-tom of Rockets and the insistent strumming a` la Velvet Underground of Itchyhead and Headlights, songs where the suspended vocals of the singer induce a harrowing effect. The overall mood is that of Smog.
Cat Power e` il progetto di Chan Marshall, originaria del Sud, figlia di un musicista itinerante, ma iniziata alla musica a New York. L'EP Dear Sir (Runt, 1995) la rivela. In brani come 3 Times e Headlights la protagonista e` un incrocio fra la poetessa rock alla Patti Smith, un contralto psichedelico alla Grace Slick e una fatale e annoiata Lydia Lunch. A rendere cupo e vano il disco non sono soltanto i testi feroci di Marshall, ma anche gli accompagnamenti funerei del chitarrista Tom Foljahn (dei Two Dollar Guitar) e del batterista Steve Shelley (dei Sonic Youth), in particolare l'ipnotico tam-tam pellerossa di Rockets e lo strimpellare ritmico alla Velvet Underground di Itchyhead e Headlights, sui quali i gorgheggi ipnotici della cantante producono un effetto agghiacciante. L'umore e` un po' quello di Smog.
In 1996 Marshall released Myra Lee (Smells Like), recorded in 1995, and What Would The Community Think (Matador). Despite the fact that the accompaniment is just her guitar and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums, the former is the first mature packaging of her art. The setting is only apparently sober and somber: in practice, each song employs a different device to establish an emotional context, and each song evolves rapidly, usually increasing tension and meaning as the sound gets louder and deeper. Enough, full of twists and fits, of ebbs and flows, is the soundtrack to a stream of consciousness that is devastated by angst, frustration, desire, just a few seconds before a nervous breakdown. The forceful We All Die, propelled by a manic beat a` la Indian war-dance, soars and sinks, halfway between dream and overdose. Another pow-wow beat torments the confused shout of Rockets. The mournful tolling of Great Expectations summons the ghost of Nico. Faces reveals the dilated emptiness of Tim Buckley's angelic grief, while Not What You Want is all anger and despair, a series of painful spasms. Marshall covers a lot of ground with a minimum of means.

What Would The Community Think (Matador) is one of her masterpieces. She begins by proving how an artist can be both subdued and relentless at the same time, with the devastating Nick Drake-ian confession of In This Hole. She then ventures into the jittery and depressed Good Clean Fun, somewhere between Laura Nyro and Lisa Germano. And that's the land where she dwells for most of the album, spinning the dreadful yarns of The Fate of the Human Carbine, the desolate lament of King Rides By, the suffocating sobs of Water & Air (bordering on Tim Buckley's psychedelic abandon). The multiple voices of The Coat is Always On inject an element of schizophrenia in a clinical case that is already worthy of a mental hospital.
The music is never trivial, often complex and always to the point. A little intellectual jamming of guitars lends What Would the Community Think the quality of a nervous breakdown. Alien noises permeate the solemn madrigal of Bathysphere, making insecurity sound like sheer neurosis. The drums help her austere howling in Nude As The News and the revised Enough, two of the most theatrical and diverse pieces.
Her sketchy vignettes and self-analyses coin a subtle and almost embarrassing format, that turns the listener into a voyeaur peeping through the keyhole. Marshall is, at the same time, the cameraman and the actress: she plays the role of a tormented heroine and films herself playing that role. These songs are as much acting as they are singing.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Luca Cantoreggi)

Nel 1996 Marshall ha pubblicato Myra Lee (Smells Like), registrato nel 1995, e What Would The Community Think (Matador). A dispetto del fatto che l’accompagnamento è ridotto alla sua chitarra e alla batteria di Steve Shelley dei Sonic Youth, il primo album è già un maturo programma della sua arte. L’arrangiamento è solo apparentemente composto e malinconico: in pratica, ogni canzone impiega un differente espediente per stabilire un contesto emotivo, e ogni canzone si evolve rapidamente, di solito incrementando tensione e significato quando il sound si fa più forte e profondo. Enough, colma di variazioni e adeguamenti, di flussi e riflussi, è la colonna sonora di un monologo interiore devastata dall’angoscia, dalla frustrazione, dalla passione, appena pochi secondi prima di un esaurimento nervoso.

L’energica We All Die, sostenuta da un maniaco beat da danza di guerra indiana, si eleva e sprofonda, a metà strada fra sogno e overdose. Un altro ritmo pow-wow affligge il grido confuso di Rockets. I lugubri rintocchi di Great Expectations evocano il fantasma di Nico. Faces mostra il grande vuoto dell’angelica angoscia di Tim Buckley, mentre Not What You Want è tutta collera e disperazione, una serie di dolorosi spasmi. Chan Marshall percorre molta strada con il minimo dei mezzi.

What Would The Community Think (Matador) è uno dei suoi capolavori. Comincia col dimostrare come un artista possa essere allo stesso tempo soggiogato ed inesorabile, con la sconvolgente confessione Drake-iana di In This Hole. In seguito si avventura nella nervosa e depressa Good Clean Fun, da qualche parte tra Laura Nyro e Lisa Germano. E quello è il terreno in cui si sofferma per la maggior parte dell’album, raccontando le atroci storie di The Fate Of The Human Carbine, il desolato lamento di King Rides By, il soffocante singhiozzo di Water & Air (rasentando il trasporto psichedelico di Tim Buckley). Le molteplici voci di The Coat is Always On introducono un elemento di schizofrenia in un caso clinico che già necessita un ospedale psichiatrico. La musica non è mai banale, spesso è complessa e giunge sempre al dunque. Un’ improvvisazione di chitarre piuttosto intellettuale conferisce a What Would the Community Think le qualità di un esaurimento nervoso. Rumori alieni permeano il solenne madrigale di Bathysphere, producendo un sound incerto da pura nevrosi. La batteria assiste il suo austero grido in Nude As The News e nella rivisitata Enough, due dei pezzi più teatrali e mutevoli. I suoi imprecisi ritratti e le abbozzate auto-analisi coniano un formato subdolo e quasi imbarazzante, che fa sentire l'ascoltatore come se stesse origliando dal buco della serratura. Marshall è allo stesso tempo cameraman e attrice: recita il ruolo dell’eroina tormentata e filma se stessa che recita quel ruolo. Queste canzoni sono tanto recitate quanto cantate.

Marshall's cinematic genius peaked with the song cycle of Moon Pix (Matador, 1998), featuring Dirty Three's Jim White and Mick Turner. Their spare, ambient, free-form arrangements are the perfect match for Marshall's deeply personal tunes. Both dejected and warm, haunting and lush lieder like American Flag and Cross Bones Style revive a tradition that was thought extinct after Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. The combo plays them in a detached manner, borrowing from blues and country, and often slumping onto a languid, dirty, psychedelic haze. A softer, gentler Joni Mitchell comes to mind in the piano-based Colors And The Kids, possibly the emotional center of the album. The flute guides He Turns Down, a hushed, nervous penance worthy of Nick Drake. Say and Moonshiner bleed Lisa Germano's shy intimism mixed with Sinead O'Connor's passion.
Marshall boasts one of the least remarkable voices in the history of singer songwriters, but at the same time it makes for one of the most moving, mesmerizing and original experiences in rock music, like when she croons the slow, waltzing dirge of No Sense

The Covers Record (Matador, 2000) is a disappointing minor work from a musician who was expected to produce a masterpiece. Her recording attitude mirrors her performing attitude, one of unpredictable highs and lows.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Walter Consonni)

La genialità di Marshall ha raggiunto il culmine con le canzoni di Moon Pix (Matador, 1998), registrato in Australia con la collaborazione di Jim White e Mick Turner dei Dirty Three. I loro arrangiamenti scarni, ambient e free-form costituiscono l'accoppiata ideale per le melodie profondamente personali di Marshall. Allo stesso tempo avviliti e appassionati, ammalianti e lussureggianti lieder come American Flag e Cross Bones Style fanno rivivere una tradizione che si pensava estinta dai tempi di Astral Weeks di Van Morrison's. Il combo suona queste canzoni in maniera distaccata, prendendo a prestito qualcosa dal blues e dal country, ed adagiandosi spesso in una foschia languida sporca e psichedelica. Viene in mente una Joni Mitchell più dolce e più soft ascoltando la pianistica Colors And The Kids, probabilmente il centro emozionale dell'intero album. Il flauto dirige He Turns Down, una silenziosa e nervosa penitenza degna di Nick Drake. Say e Moonshiner amalgamano lo schivo intimismo di Lisa Germano con l'ardore di Sinead O'Connor.
Marshall vanta una delle voci meno notevoli nella storia dei cantautori, ma allo stesso tempo è in grado di creare una delle più commoventi, ipnotizzanti ed originali esperienze della musica rock, come quando canta sommessamente il lento lamento funebre a passo di valzer di No Sense

The Covers Record (Matador, 2000) è un deludente lavoro minore che ci giunge da una musicista in attesa di produrre il proprio capolavoro. Il suo atteggiamento nel registrare dischi rispecchia l'atteggiamento dell'artista nell'interpretare il proprio lavoro, un'imprevedibile susseguirsi di alti e bassi.

Marshall's return to form and her first collection of original material in a long time, You Are Free (Matador, 2003) completes the ideal trilogy of masterpieces with What Would The Community Think and Moon Pix. Her colloquial tone resonates, more than ever, with the voices of the most haunting and poignant singers of popular music, from Nico to Tim Buckley. The emotional intensity packed by her half whisper in a simple piano-based lullaby such as I Don't Blame You or in a tender country-like mantra such as Half of You is simply harrowing. Not to mention the free-form, mournful trance of Good Woman, that resembles one of Tim Buckley's suspended dirges, or the gloomy portrait of Names, that borders on the suicidal. Strings cry their heart out in the funereal waltz of Werewolf, while the voice seems to sink in existential torpor. The overall feeling is of austere chamber music being performed in a smoky cabaret in the years before World War II.
The intimate paralysis of these quasi-classical odes is electrifying. Which makes the "rocking" songs all the more powerful. Free soars like a generational anthem, propelled by a hard, insistent guitar riff and subtle sonic touches. Speak For Me is even more virulent and rhythmic, delivered with an attitude that would please both riot-grrrrls and Patti Smith.
Regardless of mood, pace and sense, Marshall's songs maintain a delicate and solemn tunefulness (particularly Fool and another piano-based gem, Maybe Not). And, yet, there is no respite from the desolation. A terrifying sense of loneliness and inertia exhales from the bluesy Baby Doll and Keep on Runnin' Appropriately, the album closes with a piano that does not play a melody, but simply ticks like a clock (Evolution).
The lyrics are, by far, her weakest point. But, musically, she has few rivals in 2003.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

Marshall completa l'ideale trilogia di capolavori, insieme a What Would The Community Think e Moon Pix, con il nuovo materiale originale, dopo lungo tempo, di You Are Free (Matador, 2003). Il suo tono colloquiale e' ora piu' che mai vicino alle piu' tormentate e drammatiche voci della musica popolare, da Nico a Tim Buckley. La sua intensita' emozionale, ora sussurrata dimessamente nella semplice ninnananna pianistica di I Don't Blame You, ora tenera nel mantra pseudo-country di Half of You e' semplicemente lacerante. Per non dire dell' accorata trance "free-form" di Good Woman, che richiama le sospensioni funebri di un Tim Buckley, o del tenebre acquerello di Names, che sfiora temi legati al suicidio. Gli archi piangono sofferenze nel valzer funereo di Werewolf, mentre la voce sembra sprofondare in un torpore esistenziale. Il sentimento predominante e' quello dell'austerita' di una musica da camera, suonata in un fumoso cabaret negli anni a ridosso della Seconda Guerra Mondiale.
L'intima paralisi di queste odi quasi-classiche e' elettrificante: e cio' rende le canzoni piu' "rock" le piu' potenti. Free ha lo slancio di un inno generazionale, lanciato da duri ed insistenti riff di chitarra e sottili tocchi sonici. Speak For Me e' ancor piu' ritmica e virulenta, suonata con un piglio che piacerebbe sia alle riot-grrrrls che a Patti Smith.
Al di la' del mood, dell'incedere e del sentimento, le canzoni della Marshall mantengono una delicata e solenne armoniosita' (in particolare Fool e l'altra gemma pianistica, Maybe Not). E ancora, non c'e' tregua dalla desolazione. Un terribile senso di solitudine e di inerzia si spande dalla bluesata Baby Doll e Keep on Runnin'. Appropriatamente, l'album si chiude con un pianoforte che non intona una melodia, ma emula il tecchettio di un orologio (Evolution).
I testi sono, di gran lunga, il suo punto piu' debole. Ma, musicalmente, lei ha pochi rivali nel 2003.

Speaking For Trees (Matador, 2004) is a film on DVD, directed by Mark Borthwick, in which Cat Power plays some of her songs and some covers, plus a CD with only one 18-minute long song, Willie Deadwilder with Cat Power on vocals and M Ward on guitar. The song is a tender lullaby of the kind that Donovan used to spin, a melody with echoes of Don McLean's American Pie as well as of Bob Dylan's Blowing in the Wind, and of countless nostalgic laments, over a gentle, luminescent tapestry of guitar strumming.

Having set the (fragile) standard of "intimate" for the entire decade, Chan Marshall recorded The Greatest (Matador, 2006) with some of Memphis' session musicians, a grand gesture that is commonly employed to reconnect the young lion with the old masters, a feat perfectly achieved in Love and Communication (a festival of horns, strings, and keyboards), Living Proof (for organ and horns), and the saloon atmosphere of Lived In Bars. Generally speaking, Marshall comes through as musically more assertive with the catchy Could We, reminiscent of Tamla's soul music, and two piano and strings showcases, Where Is My Love and The Greatest. Nonetheless, the emotional intensity shifts gear whenever she intones her shy dirges, like the desperate piano and guitar lament of Hate ("I hate myself and I want to die") or the subliminal The Moon for plain guitar and otherworldly vocals. Thus, by the end of the album, one misses the old Marshall and regrets that she tried too hard to be someone else.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Luca Cantoreggi)

Speaking For Trees (Matador, 2004) è un film in DVD, diretto da Mark Borthwick, nel quale Cat Power esegue proprie canzoni e cover; più un CD con un'unica canzone da 18 minuti, Willie Deadwilder, con Cat Power alla voce e M Ward alla chitarra. Il brano è una tenue cantilena alla Donovan, una melodia con echi di American Pie di Don McLean come pure di Blowing in the Wind di Bob Dylan, e innumerevoli nostalgici lamenti, sopra un dolce, luminescente ricamo di chitarra.

Avendo fissato il (fragile) standard del concetto di "intimo" per l’intero decennio, Chan Marshall ha registrato The Greatest (Matador, 2006) con alcuni noti musicisti di Memphis (fra cui Steve Potts e i fratelli Hodges), abile mossa per riallacciare la giovane celebrità ai grandi artisti, un’impresa perfettamente riuscita in brani come Love and Communication (un festival di fiati, archi e tastiere), Living Proof (per organo e fiati) e nell’atmosfera da saloon di Lived In Bars. Parlando in generale, Marshall si rivela più determinata con l’orecchiabile Could We, che richiama la soul music della Tamla, e con il piano e gli archi che fanno bella mostra in Where Is My Love e The Greatest. Nondimeno, l’intensità emozionale cambia marcia non appena intona i suoi schivi canti funebri, come il disperato lamento di piano e chitarra in Hate ("I hate myself and I want to die"), o il subliminale The Moon con una disadorna chitarra e vocalizzi spirituali. Così, alla fine dell’album, uno nota l’assenza della vecchia Marshall e rimpiange il fatto che abbia cercato troppo insistentemente di essere qualcun altro.

Jukebox (2007) is another cover album.

Cat Power opted for synths and beats instead of folk-rocking guitars and drums on Sun (Matador, 2012), the first collection of original material in over six years, an album that basically anointed her as a contemporary soul singer. Marshall played most instruments herself and self-produced. The results can be trivially pleasant (the bubblegum ditty Cherokee) or pedantically tedious (the languid neo-soul of Sun). Lyrically dominated by the ethereal nocturnal ballad Manhattan (with a spare accompaniment of repetitive piano notes and skittering beats), the album's emotional center of mass is Ruin, with its hypnotic minimalist piano repetition and mantra-like recitation, and one of the loudest techno beats as well as one of the noisiest guitar riffs, which is like having Enya the Rolling Stones and Philip Glass in the same song. The most reckless idea is the eight-minute lullaby Nothin But Time that, having Iggy Pop on backing vocals, inevitably borrows the decadent tone of David Bowie before soaring into a childish singalong. Safer are the two cohesive and bouncing peaks: Silent Machine, a stomping quasi-voodoo interpretation of hard rock of the 1970s, and the anthemic pounding square dance and rigmarole Peace and Love (reminiscent of Jay-Z 's 99 Problems). Despite the sometimes annoying drum-machine, this album contains some of her best songs. She also fails, as usual, when the song gets too personal and we're supposed to listen to the words instead of listening to the music and to her voice. But, overall, Marshall found a surprising balance of introversion and extroversion both in the words and in the sounds.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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