The legend of Chan Marshall draws its power from her beauty, her Southernness, and her mental illness. Oh, and also from that time she flashed her bush at readers of the New Yorker. Still, the singer, who performs under the moniker Cat Power, is currently on an upswing that began when she left a short-term psych ward lockdown to tour triumphantly behind her 2006 release The Greatest. Remarkably, delightfully, gratifyingly, we are no longer living in an era of Cat Power performances that crumble into seven kinds of crazy while the audience seeps steadily out the door.
The Georgia-born, New York-buzzed chanteuse got her cred from experimental whisperings and wailings in the mid-'90s and her rep from the tours that followed when she signed to Matador Records. Fans stuck around despite her meltdowns because Marshall's voice is a singular instrument. It's a hard-luck voice, a vintage model with a rich patina. And Marshall has a self-sacrificing spirit that would take a leap off a cliff if she thought her pipes might want to explore the experience.
And now her current tour supports her recent set of covers records, including last year's full-length, Jukebox, and later that year, the EP Dark End of the Street. She's brought the house lights down low again to let her varnished-smoke croon have its sleepy, spooky way with other people's tunes. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra — these are old names, and Marshall's old soul possesses their work so that she inhabits every inch of it. And Marshall's proved, on Jukebox, that she has the power to ably possess others. But when it comes to self-possession, we're all still waiting to see what new material this era of Pax Marshall will bring.