In the hands of any other artist, the simple fact that this is Cat Power’s third collection of ‘Covers’ might seem reductive. Yet that’s far from the case; the timings involved for one – spread across 20 years, give or take – let each breathe as singular documents, while her role as an interpreter, songwriting evangelist, and performer push each recording to a quite exquisite realm.
As such, ‘Covers’ is far from your ordinary selection of cover versions. The production is slick but never over-powering, rolled back just enough to let Cat Power’s voice assume the primary role, while never dominating. It’s an approach that thrives on subtlety – the crisp piano chords that linger on ‘Bad Religion’ for example, pivoted against Chan Marshall’s sighing suspirations.
‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’ finds a brooding femininity in The Pogues’ folk-punk text, while ‘These Days’ thrives on playing it straight down the line. ‘Covers’ is often at its strongest when it takes you by surprise, however – Cat Power re-interpretating her own words on ‘Unhate’ for example, seeming to suggest a soulful acquiescence with her past difficulties.
Instrumentally, ‘Covers’ touches on some pivotal Cat Power tropes. The sloping Southern soul of ‘White Mustang’ is met by the country intonations of ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’, with her demanding minimalism pushing toward feeling over technique, a restrained musicality that squeezes renewed emotion out of these well-worn texts.
Indeed, ‘Covers’ isn’t afraid to confront sparsity, and utilise silence and space as instruments in themselves. Nick Cave’s ‘I Had A Dream Joe’ is little more than menace, a short piano line, and Chan Marshall’s freewheeling vocal; ‘Here Comes A Regular’ offers a blurred vocal, like a pane of glass beset by rainfall, both obscured and revealing.
Closing with the pointed valediction ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, this is an album that riffs on the classic, while also being unafraid to re-contextualise these tropes into something personal. Existing entirely out-with the parameters of Cat Power’s previous interpretations, ‘Covers’ feels refreshing and invigorated.
Words: Robin Murray
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