Cat Power’s Chan Marshall began her music career by heading to the streets of New York, but for her most recent album Marshall decided to go back to her native Georgia roots for inspiration. The Greatest, Marshall’s first album in three years, was recorded in Memphis, Tenn., and several of its tracks are heavily laden with a folk and blues feel.
The album begins with the title track, “The Greatest,” a work that doesn’t really indicate that the rest of Marshall’s album is about to take on a more Memphis-style sound.
“The Greatest” is a mix of piano and a gorgeous string arrangement, accompanied by Marshall softly crooning her woeful lyrics, “Once I wanted to be the greatest /no wind or waterfall could stop me /and then came the rush of the flood /the stars at night turned you to dust.”
The title track is followed by “Living Proof,” which marks the beginning of a series of tracks that resonate with a lively twang. On “Living Proof,” Marshall deviates from her usually subdued playing of the piano and creates a feel that is unusually upbeat compared to many of Marshall’s previous albums. “Willie” and “After All” serve as further testaments to Marshall’s throwback to southern blues. The songs’ horn instruments and Marshall’s smoky voice immediately become more playful instead of regretful. The song, “Islands” creates a mood reminiscent of a languid summer day with its simple, relaxing chorus of “I just want my sailor to sail back to me.”
Aside from the title track, there are still a few songs on the album that don’t keep up with the livelier theme and feel. “Where is My Love” is a track wedged between a series of country style tunes. The song features only a piano and Marshall’s sorrowful vocals, causing the track to fall back into a sound more akin to Marshall’s previous work. Normally, a piece such as “Where is My Love” wouldn’t stand out as anything peculiar, but against the contrast of the more playful feel of The Greatest, “Where is my Love” sounds gloomier than usual, yet still makes for an enjoyable listen.
By incorporating bits of her older melodies into her most recent album, Chan Marshall is able to highlight what she does best, while proving that she has the talent and versatility to experiment with new sounds. While some fans may not like the heavy sprinkling of southern flavor that coats over half the songs on The Greatest, they can still find comfort in the several more familiar tracks which serve as strong indicators that Marshall has not completely revamped her sound for good.
Jess Thom can be reached at email@example.com.