A new album from Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, is a rare and noteworthy event. She has come a long way from the raw early days of Dear Sir and Myra Lee, with Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums and championing her on his own record label.
Her previous album, Jukebox was a covers record released in 2008, so it has been a long time between drinks. I first saw Cat Power live in Brisbane at The Zoo in around 1998 or 1999, following her release of the much-acclaimed Moon Pix. That album, and her tour, featured Jim White and Mick Turner of The Dirty Three, but even their commanding presence wasn’t enough to keep the live shows together. Chan was extremely shy and kept starting songs over, apologising to the audience and turning her back on us. I’ve since seen her again twice, once in Wollongong then again at the Sydney Opera House. She has greatly matured as a performer; I don’t miss the false starts, though I do at times miss the bleak emotion of her early records.
The new album is called Sun and the production is far from raw, for better or worse, depending on your taste. However, the opening track Cherokee immediately brings to mind her 1996 album Myra Lee and it’s second track, We All Die which opens with “heyyyyy, we all die; sometimes”. Cherokee opens with a similar thought:
Never knew love like this.
The wind, the moon, the earth, the sky.
I never knew pain like this;
and everything dies.
It’s a beautiful track and despite these lyrics, it’s tinged with more light than darkness, which fits both the album title and the title track that follows, Sun. The first single released from the album was Ruin and this comes in at number three. Again the slightly downhearted lyrics are lifted tremendously by the bright piano accompaniment and the song’s production. The song takes us around the world and even has a whispered nod to the aforementioned Wollongong, a beach town about an hour south of Sydney, where Cat Power has performed.
The album continues in the same vein and sustains interest until the end. It’s so exciting to have an entire album of original Cat Power material, the first since The Greatest in 2006.
I certainly hope there’ll be an Australian tour on the back of this album; it will be worth seeing.