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Cat Power Takes on Soul With 'The Greatest'

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Over the last decade, Chan Marshall has made a name for herself in the Indie-Rock world, recording under the name Cat Power. For her latest album, she went to Memphis, where she recorded with some of the architects of that city's legendary soul music. Critic Tom Moon has a review of The Greatest.

TOM MOON reporting:

Here's a Cat Power song from a few years back.

(Soundbite of Cat Power music)

MOON: And here's one from her latest CD. With apologies to Ray Charles, it might be called Cat Power plus soul equals breakthrough.

(Soundbite of Cat Power music)

MOON: For this disc, Cat Power sought help from some of the secret weapons of Memphis music. Among them is the guitarist Mabon Teenie Hodges and his base playing brother, Leroy Flick Hodges. They backed Al Green on such classics as Let's Stay Together, and Ann Peebles on her hit, I Can't Stand the Rain. They give Cat Powers downcast odes about romantic despair a firm anchor.

(Soundbite of Cat Power music)

MOON: You can tell these musicians are inspired by Cat Power's halting, torn apart delivery. Check out the title track, called The Greatest, which tells of a young man's desire to be a prize fighter. The musicians creep along, measure by precious measure. They're seeking tiny, almost transparent ways to move the story forward.

(Soundbite of Cat Power music)

MOON: Cat Power's The Greatest doesn't clobber you with greatness right away. It gets under your skin slowly. Different facets emerge with each spin. It's soul all right, but not the blazing horns and whiplash rhythm guitars we associate with Memphis in the 1960's. No, this is soul as an idea, a way of making music that stretches across generations and genre distinctions, and turns out to be powerful enough to transform her ramblings into something totally mesmerizing.

(Soundbite of Cat Power music)

NORRIS: The new album from Cat Power is called The Greatest. Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon
Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.