There’s a striking comparison these days between old Cat Power and new Cat Power. One is slit your wrists depressing the other a professionally applied lint bandage by one of our very own darling NHS nurses. Charlyn Marie Marshall aka Chan (pronounced like the Welsh name Sian) Marshall aka Cat Power has the deep southern blues in her blood and spills her guts with ease about topics and truths we can’t bear to think about. You know, well we don’t as we don’t like mention them in polite conversation – sadness, broken hearts, pain, alcoholism, child abuse, death et cetera. Yet for the first time on the new album Sun (recorded in Silverlake, LA) she sounds, dare I say, kind of happy in her sadness. What’s the change? Has anybody seen the old Cat Power? Is she off the booze and drugs? Is it because she ditched the guitar and piano for drumbeats? Did someone say chin up it might never happen?
Lord knows what the truth is about her she probably doesn’t know herself beyond it being a new departure musically and hence a good career move. She’s beautiful and talented with a voice that sets off emotional volcanoes so there’s a lot of factoids on the myth making machine of the internet. You can read all about it yourself starting with high priest of information Wikipedia and all the associated footnotes. But as any fool knows the only way to try and understand an artist is through their work. This takes time. So to save you all I’ve made a Cat Power playlist tracking her transition out of the slow-moving suffocating darkness of the early years into the relative light of the most recently released album Sun.
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Now as any artist knows the only way to understand their work is through their audience. And this is without a doubt the area that Cat Power surpasses herself and the fans gets their twopenneth worth. Critics in the past have slagged off her performances at best as shambolic with long stretches of time spent tuning her guitar or talking to friends in the crowd proclaiming that she only knows how to play one chord or whole sets played as one song merging endlessly into another, a bit like reggae, but this is what we love her for. And on she stumbles from chaos to disaster and then ultimately into strength through her vulnerability. We all root for her. We all laugh. She joins us in the dark and then strikes a match.
In the subterranean dark of Liquid in New York on my 30th birthday, I shouted out for Candle in the Wind and she answered back, ‘Mary, Mary is that you?’ Well what could I do but answer, ‘Yes!’ ‘How are you?’ said Chan, ‘It’s been soooo long.’ Time and an inexplicable overwhelming feeling prevents me recalling what I then answered back but I do remember kudos (or was it scorn?) pouring over me from the rest of a crowd that included Courtney Love for being her friend. Probably her oldest bestest friend in New York no doubt. See her perform the happy album and pretend your name is Mary.