There are those bands that you fall in love with in college that you might bring back out later on for nostalgia's sake, then there are those bands you fell in love with that keep on growing up with you. Cat Power is one of those musicians.
Her 1998 album Moon Pix came out my junior year and its brooding, delicately sparse, and completely mournful songs helped me through a tumultuous year punctuated by bad dates (and a few good ones), all-nighters in the college newspaper office, and the constant reminder that soon the real world called. My favorite track on the album was immediately "Metal Heart," which opens with soft rolling and somehow medieval sounding guitar and bass line that immediately bring you in for the ride. Cat Power's layered and slightly reverbed vocals make a subtle enough entrance. Then the momentum builds with the addition of Jim White's ever-artful percussion. The apex is reached two thirds of the way into the tune when she sings achingly in minor key, "I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I see." I still cry each time I hear this song.
Cat Power reinvents "Metal Heart" on her latest effort, Jukebox. A full-chorded piano line replaces the sparse guitar opening and Cat Power's vocals are less brooding and more sultry. Not that the sadness is gone--it's just matured. She has completely shaken off the youthful angst and fine-tuned the traditional rhythm and blues stylings first displayed on her last release, The Greatest. Still a ballad, this is more of a rock ballad than the lo-fi Moon Pix rendition. Yet it still manages to produce tears in my eyes.
Jukebox is a testament to Cat Power's genius for interpretation, a skill that seems to be lacking these days. Instead of trying to sound exactly like the popular original or making it new via gimmick or irony, she completely makes each cover truly, distinctly her own.
A fine example is the opener, "New York, New York," which she manages to turn from an over-played sappy show tune into a classic, hip swinging R&B tune. And with each track she continues the mastery.
With only one original on the 12-track album, she takes on beloved songs from stalwarts of 20th century popular music including Bob Dylan, James Brown, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Hank Williams. And there's not one clunker.
I have to say I've taken a particular fondness for her cover of The Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion." A sweet wispy rendition, it's got delicate slide guitar as the only instrumentation and when she sings "Ride like a one eyed jack of diamonds with the devil close behind," there's something touching and very hopeful about it.
Jukebox proves a fine follow-up to The Greatest. Now I'm just eagerly anticipating her next album of all original material. And, for anyone who misinterprets, I do not mean to belittle her earlier body of work. Moon Pix remains one of my favorite albums. For any musician to have staying power, they must evolve. And I'm sure happy that Cat Power has. • Katy Henriksen