Chan Marshall has always gravitated toward cover tunes and Covers is her third full-length album dealing with songs written by other artists that she deeply relates to. Stating that, “Performing covers is a very enjoyable way to do something that feels natural to me when it comes to making music”, her 11th album as Cat Power finds Marshall selecting yet another batch to interpret.
The issue on Covers isn’t her choice of originals, which excellently display a wide range of genres and eras, it is the fact that the majority of Marshall’s versions are delivered in the same understated, breathy style and do little to accentuate the originals in true interpretive fashion. Opening with a version of Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion”, which was the inspiration for this project, Marshall incorporates stop/start beats, light guitar riffs, repeating piano, and breathy vocals which ease open the album.
That smoky 70’s influenced groove with layers of effects on Marshall’s tripled vocals flow out through the majority of the songs on Covers. Echo and spooky vibes float through “Unhate” a reworking of her own “Hate” while Dead Man’s Bones “Pa Pa Power” and “White Mustang” from Lana Del Ray both continue in that weepy, dark 70’s lounge vibe. Unfortunately, this style drags Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” down, smothering it into submission while the sparse “A Pair Of Brown Eyes” by The Pogues falls sterilely flat and the heavy bass and drums can’t cut through the vocal effects and fog of Iggy Pop’s “Endless Sea”.
Just when the album seems to be running on fumes, Marshall breaks the sonic mold and delivers a beautiful airy version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days”, a clear highpoint as things improve towards the end of the record. The jazz inspired take on Kitty Wells country ditty “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” is the winning choice as the standup bass and steel guitar are dynamite while the ominous droning of “I Had A Dream Joe”, written by Nick Cave, finds Marshall singing with her most passionate energy on the album.
Marshall twists The Replacements “Here Comes A Regular” into a drawn-out warbling piano ballad while the straight-ahead rendition of Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” pushes Marshall’s breathy vocals into torch song tribute territory. Overall Covers is a mixed bag containing strong song choices, but very few must-hear offerings from the artist who will always dig the crates for new covers to unearth.