Review: Cat Power

Cat Power
“You Are Free”
(Matador Records)

On the opening piano ballad “I Don’t Blame You,” Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, sings, “You were swinging your guitar around/Cuz they wanted to hear that sound/But you didn’t want to play.” She could easily be forgiving herself for her much storied stage fright and fragile ego that’s caused her numerous times to walk offstage mid-set. But more than likely, she’s singing some other misunderstood musician/genius who’s reached hero-worship status. Marshall often sings for the misbegotten and misunderstood — “Names” weaves monstrous yarns of child abuse — and redefines melancholy, torture and despair throughout the album.

The Georgia native’s country blues rasp that fans have come to know and love returns on “Good Woman,” a song about having to leave, “because I can’t stand to see you be a bad man.” But the highlight comes in the middle of the album when Marshall turns up the tempo for “He War,” some straightforward rock with and a “hey, ay, yay” chorus bound to stay glued to your brain for awhile. Marshall pulled in a couple big names (and longtime fans) for cameo appearances. Eddie Vedder’s background warble accompanies Marshall nicely on “Good Woman,” but his duet on the dark folk of “Evolution” is a misstep. On three songs, Dave Grohl plays the drums softer than ever before, and doesn’t overshadow the atmosphere the songbird has created.