Chan Marshall has taken on her stunning musical persona of Cat Power once again and delivered a fantastic new record, The Greatest.
Don't let the title confuse you; this isn't a greatest hits compilation, but her sixth full length release from Matador records. The Greatest was recorded in Memphis, which makes its presence known with the twanging guitar on "Islands" and the whistling refrain on "After It All."
With the first half focusing on her skill as a pianist and the guitar taking over on the
last half, this album features more of a backing band than her previous work. Help from Al Green's backup band and a few other musicians make The Greatest a little more upbeat and give it a more full-bodied sound. It was surprising to hear so much going on in a Cat Power song, reminding me of when I threw on Elliot Smith's Basement on a Hill and heard "Coast to Coast." A full band backing someone we're used to hearing alone, strumming away at their guitar, can be daunting, but Marshall reassures us nothing has changed. Her haunting songwriting and strong, velvety voice are still the forefront of her music, and none of her talent gets lost in the sound of the new musicians on board.
Although her style has progressed and we see a lot of new additions to the Cat Power mix, she hasn't swayed from what we know her best for. Lost love, missing your love, depression, death and (did I mention losing your love?) come up in her intelligent and honest songs, but the morbid accompaniment is gone. This makes for a slightly unusual mood, since there are horns and banjos and whistles that have you bopping your head to fairly melancholic vocals. The Greatest may be suffering a bit of genre-confusion, but it's still shows Marshall's experimentation with different styles and growth as an artist. Moving more toward the soulful, bluegrass style of music her voice sounds most suited to sing, she's proven she isn't going to make soundtracks to breakups and crying sessions forever.