There’s a certain kick you can get out of discovering new things about an artist or band you already know about (like, did you know that Daniel Johns played guitar on the first Presets EP?) but it’s something completely different when you go snooping around with someone that your friends love. I’m always fascinated when a large group of what I like to dub ‘music friends’ all celebrate the release of an musician who, for some reason or another, simply passed me by, and make a mental note to find out what the big deal is somewhere down the line. This is an approach that usually leads to positive reward if you’re running with the right people; so far it’s introduced me to the undeniable brilliance of Ryan Adams, the moody pulse of Autolux and many others. And now, some seven or so years since I first saw my friends talking about her, it has led me back to the very special sound of one Chan Marshall.
Yeah, it’s cool to be the first guy to the party with new tunes, but if discovering Cat Power in my own sweet time has proven anything, it’s that there’s also a lot of benefit in rocking up late. Today’s tune comes from an album nearly a decade old, on the very same day that Marshall (Cat Power to us) is releasing another one. I’m not going to weigh in on it because I imagine I’ll be spending the next few months just trying to figure out what she’s all about. It takes a particular kind of artist to still be relevant just for creating rather than being a history diorama in her second decade as a recording artist. Now that the waters have cooled, I have the benefit of being able to listen to Marshall’s records and decide whether, with the passing of time, they’ve actually lived up to their hype. It’s a luxury very rarely afforded to someone who has to now pass judgment on things weeks before they’ve even materialised in the real world – literally, an editor asked me to review Bloc Party’s new release before they’d even put it up on their site – and something I take very seriously. With a body of work as large as Marshall’s, I find it’s best to start with the most popular record first, or else go for the one that broke them internationally. As it turns out, You Are Free happens to be both.
‘Good Woman’ is such a beautifully sad song. All that emotion swirls up amid the crashing oceans of noise that could only come from the bearded Tasmanian Devil that is Warren Ellis. He’s a master of sending shivers down collective spines, and by combining his talents with the ever-harrowing vocals of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, Marshall’s put herself in fine company for the world’s grungiest ballad. It’s interesting, then, how pure and sweet her voice is in contrast to all the overdrive and frenetic violin scrambles. You can almost imagine her soothing the tempest of instruments bubbling beneath her, never managing to let them really break out into the angst that is so clearly palpable from the harmonic arrangement. Like Adams’ work, it’s quintessentially American and with lashings of gospel and roadside blues, it’s hard to not to romanticise the crap out of it. But perhaps because of Marshall’s restraint, because she doesn’t reduce herself to a screaming, blubbering mess, she becomes an even more important artist. She implies the sentiment rather than raining it down on her audience, which shows a kind of nuance that’s really rare, even in indie rock. That’s probably why so many people are still excited about her output, even though I’m just dipping my first toe in.
It’s going to be a great ride.
Cat Power – ‘Good Woman’ (ft. Eddie Vedder and Warren Ellis)