By the time Chan Marshall reaches San Diego as her alter ego Cat Power, she will have released Wanderer, her first album of new music in six years. The reviewers at Pitchfork gave it a 7.4, while other critics have called this, her 10th album, a career rebirth. A fitting description, in that, during the creation of Wanderer, Marshall became a mother. But prior, she’d considered leaving the grind of performing. She told a reviewer she’d found work bartending in a desert town in Australia, which never happened. Marshall instead moved to Miami, where she made the new record. Guitar, piano, and her voice, pretty much ghostly. As the story goes, her record label said no dice.
Charlyn Marie Marshall was born in Georgia 46 years ago. Her parents’ marriage went bust and she was shuttled from relative to relative all over the southern United States. She settled with her blues piano-playing dad and played a little music herself, mostly in friends’ bands, and later moved to New York and did more of the same. This was the inauspicious beginning of a career in music that can only be called personal and unplanned. But her music hit home.
Cat Power was the name of an early Marshall band. The group disintegrated, but the name stuck. I came late to the dance and didn’t become a Cat Power fan until an equally idiosyncratic musician friend, a singer/songwriter named Itai Faierman, turned me on to her records maybe 12 years ago. Like Faierman’s stuff, Cat Power’s music presents shifts in scope and reach from album to album. The glue that binds is her voice, her timing, and her lyric sense. The uninitiated may hear wisps of Dylan’s phrasing, or Tom Waits’ fearless bounce. Music that is serious without being serious, both close and distant. I knew it was for me, and maybe even about me, the moment I heard it.