Chan’s Jawn

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14

    If the cover tunes from Cat Power’s recent album Jukebox confirmed anything, it’s that Chan Marshall has the ability to seize on the jewels of the great American songbook and pulverize them into a fine, soporific dust. And that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes we need some toe-tappable classics as we wait for our bedtime serving of Celestial Seasonings to steep in its mug.

    The latest Cat Power EP, Dark End of the Street, is an even sleepier affair, cobbling together a handful of unreleased outtakes from Jukebox. American and British artists of legendary repute originally made all six songs famous, and it’s enough to make you wonder how long Marshall is going to ride this train. (Will she have transposed the entire Cash Money catalog into somnambulant balladry by 2012? We’re crossing our fingers. Really!) But the tunes on Dark End aren’t as drowsy as they are dreamy. At her best, Marshall stretches time and unravels song structures, rendering some of her selections almost unrecognizable.

    Her version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is particularly impressive, diffusing one of rock’s most vitriolic moments into little more than ghostly ambiance. John Fogerty’s iconic yelp is replaced by Marshall’s atmospheric coo and when she sings, “It ain’t me,” it sounds more like resignation than protest. She drifts into even more ethereal pastures on “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” a ballad by the late Brit folkie Sandy Denny. Anchored by little more than fleeting piano chords, the song threatens to disintegrate into nothingness were it not for Marshall’s vocal chords acting as a weird, diaphanous, sonic glue.

    But it’s not all magic. Marshall’s arrangement of Aretha Franklin’s “It Ain’t Fair” sounds an awful lot like the closing theme music from Saturday Night Live. Close your eyes and you’ll see Paul Rudd thanking Beyoncé, and the wonderful cast before Marshall slinks into the mix. Vamping on Aretha’s loner’s lament, the singer increases the bumout factor by slowing the song’s original stagger down to a desperate crawl.

    Her treatment of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” offers a much more enjoyable slow burn. Over a quivering organ line, the singer rues a waning romance, singing, “Your love is growing cold.” In 1965, those words came bursting out of Redding’s lungs like fire. Four decades later, they dissolve from Marshall’s mouth like smoke.