It’s been an eventful few years for Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power. Following the release of 2006’s brilliant The Greatest, Marshall had what she later described as a “psychotic break” and was admitted to a psychiatric ward following years of alcohol abuse.
At the time, her career was in the ascendancy, The Greatest, her seventh album, successfully transposing that unique vocal growl onto the musical backdrops laid out by members of Al Green‘s touring band. Renowned for her erratic live shows – sometimes ending with Marshall curled up in a ball in the middle of the stage – many felt her absence from the limelight would be a long one.
Earlier this year, however, Cat Power returned with Jukebox, her second album of cover versions. Healthier and with demons behind her, she also returned to the live arena, performing with a new found confidence that saw her finish every song as opposed to mumbling apologies and walking off. This EP collects together six songs that were left off the parent album, four of them previously unreleased.
As with Jukebox, Dark End Of The Street continues the recent re-categorising of Cat Power, from indie minimalist to fully-fledged blues/soul singer. The EP opens with the title track, a cover of James Carr‘s Muscle Shoals classic. Marshall’s husky, smoke-ridden voice wraps itself deliciously around each word, detailing adultery from the point of view of the adulterer. Marshall’s backing band, the The Dirty Delta Blues, take a back seat, creating a mid-paced, softly strummed bed for her voice to dominate.
Elsewhere, Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s Vietnam War polemic, Fortunate Son, still makes sense today with its tale of poor young men in America being drafted up to war. In Marshall’s hands it takes on a creepy, haunted feel, a lone violin playing out a repetitive rhythm whilst what sounds like a wolf howls in the distance.
The Pogues‘ Ye Auld Triangle receives a similarly spectral re-working, as does Aretha Franklin‘s It Ain’t Fair, which vocally is perhaps the only song to really suffer by comparison, Marshall’s strained voice no match for the sheer power of the original.
Sandy Denny‘s 1968 folk classic, Who Knows Where The Time Goes? is recast as a mournful piano lament, similar in feel to The Greatest, Marshall taking her time to finish each word, almost tasting every lyric. Much more faithful is her version of the Otis Redding classic, I’ve Been Loving You For So Long (To Stop Now), a song so perfect it seems churlish to even attempt a cover.
Perhaps that’s the real problem with any covers album – if you’re going to do it then you need to pick your choices wisely. For the most part Marshall gets it spot on, but when she doesn’t she only serves to highlight the quality of the originals.