Spin Control  

January 29, 2006



An indie-rock darling whose plaintive folk songs have drawn comparisons to Laura Nyro and Nick Drake, Chan (as in Shawn, not Charlie) Marshall, a k a Cat Power, is celebrated less for her music than for her bizarre behavior onstage: Her live shows often derail as she succumbs to real or imagined nervous breakdowns, sometimes unable to complete a single song. Certainly, some fans laud her smoky-voiced, introspective albums. But I've never understood their alleged charms, and mostly find her a major downer.

The hook on Marshall's seventh album is that she has reconnected with her Southern roots, injecting more country and soul flavors into her stripped-down sound, and traveling to Memphis to record with a group of session greats including renowned brothers Mabon "Teenie" and Leroy "Flick" Hodges on guitar and bass. But the talents of these musicians, who powered some of Al Green's best recordings, are largely wasted when paired with Marshall's somnambulant voice and depressing, woe-is-me songwriting; you can't help wondering how much more a better and more soulful vocalist such as Neko Case or Kelly Hogan could have accomplished in such company.

The album title, of course, is a bit of self-deprecation. "Once I wanted to be the greatest/No wind of waterfall could stall me," Marshall sings in the title track. "And then came the rush of the flood/Stars of night turned deep to dust." I don't know about the flood; as on her previous efforts, Cat Power's humble talents mainly seem to be overwhelmed by her overreaching pretensions and her own (real or imagined) miseries.