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The Cat Power experience Print-ready version

by Ghassan Hamra
North Carolina State University Technician
March 18, 2003

Cat Power -- "You are Free"

It has been almost five years since Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, has released a full-length album. What about her cover album in 2000, you say? Well, cover albums, especially cover albums as unimportant as that one, don't count. A cover album, by nature, lacks the important flow and unity that any really good album possesses. So, one must ask ... was the wait worth it?

Well, worth is a subjective thing, and you must ask yourself a few questions before you even continue reading this:

1. Do I enjoy singer/songwriters? If yes, proceed.

2. Do I think Joni Mitchell is an amazing singer and shaped the role of women in music today? If yes, go on to question 4. If no, go on to question 3.

3. What the hell is wrong with you? How can you not recognize what Joni Mitchell meant to music? Besides, her voice is simply gorgeous. Have you even heard "Court and Spark"? Go buy it. NOW!

4. Do I want an album that combines both beautiful vocals with minimal guitar work and occasional backup music?

Well, if you've gotten this far, than this is obviously an album you should invest your time in.

"You Are Free" is an album bold enough to take minimal rock, blues and country and make something that isn't that different but still manages to seem original. Marshall has always had a pretty original sound. Her voice is easily distinguished from the artists whom she gets pigeonholed with (Think Liz Phair, PJ Harvey). Her voice has a shy honesty to it, like if Tim Kasher (Cursive) was a woman on depressants with a taste for flowers and hippies.

Marshall moans through 14 songs, each as beautiful and unique as the one before it, though two of the album's tracks, "Werewolf" and "Keep on Runnin'," are actually cover songs. Marshall, the inventive songwriter she is, is able to include these without ruining the continuity of the album. Both songs sound like her creation and pay an enjoyable tribute to their original artists.

Like any good singer/songwriter album, "You Are Free" is about as depressing as N.C. State getting schooled by Duke this past weekend. Marshall seems to be reaching toward a goal of freedom -- from her past, her present or maybe something else? On "Maybe Not," Marshall suggests, "Remember one thing a dream you can see/ pray it to be ... we've got nothing to lose/ we could all be free." Lyrics like those on "You Are Free" should always hurt this good.

In addition, "You Are Free" has quite a few guest appearances. It is reported that Dave Grohl supplied much of the drum tracks on the album. In addition, Eddie Vedder provided backing vocals on a couple of tracks. Though his vocals are not as welcome on "Evolution," they are a surprisingly pleasant complement on "Good Woman."

If you need one track as a reference, just listen to "Names." Close to the end of this album, this track helps close out an album that is upbeat, morose and enthralling, all at the same time.

Cat Power will be performing at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro this Friday. Having never actually been to a Cat Power show, I can only go by what people have said. Her shows are always described as an experience.

The last time she came by, she played the Arts Center next door to Cat's Cradle. Reportedly, she spent a good bit of time during the show shifting from place to place on stage, with her hair in her face, possibly to hide her eyes, which some say showed obvious signs of at least a few bong hits before the show. As one fan said, "A Cat Power show is something everybody should experience at least once."

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Added to Library on March 20, 2003. (2537)

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