Cat Power, or more correctly: Chan Mashall, harkens from Atlanta Georgia and it doesnt take more than the very first moments of Myra Lee to recognise that she could come from no where else other than one of the southern states of the USofA.
The album sounds pretty lo-fi, not tinny or flat but it appears that it was recorded almost entirely in a rehearsal space in New York. No fancy recording studio. The effect works to the benefit of the listener. The opening track, Enough, slowly builds in volume and you feel like you could easily be in some subterranean venue, listening to some late night rock and roll.
Because just who is Cat Power and what is her music? Only within the last few weeks have I discovered Cat Power and I now have three of her albums. All good. Myra Lee is my favourite. Its raw. But its somehow sophisticated at the same time. And personal. And potent. Cat Powers music is a blend of rock and roll, blues, rock, country (the gritty kind); yet is somehow Cat Power. Listening to her other work, you immediately recognise that Myra Lee, and Cat Powers sound, is entirely her own. Witness: she barely seems to sing. Her drawl completely lacks any kind of affectation. As Enough comes to life, Powers acoustic guitar riffs floating into volume, her vocals feel so natural. Talk or sing you feel she would sound the same. Her vocals are such that how could she be anything other than a singer (though she also plays guitar and piano). Laidback, Enough pulls us into Myra Lee and it is a joy. Just what does she do? I dont know. But it feels like good old late at night rock and roll. Imagine Cat Power sleepy eyed, lids drooping, fingers moving across the neck of her guitar. Backing band following where she wants to go; only without the self-indulgence and absolutely no I mean NO noodling.
We All Die has the ironic lyric I believe that I am the luckiest person alive. It builds on the feel of being in a slightly murky basement, the sound a little muddied. Like Enough, which is quiet and slowly builds into light, We All Die builds up further. It has a more solid sound; the guitar work is low register, the bass (on the right speakers) just pumps out and yet somehow Powers vocals, though she seems to drawl as much as she does sing, never get lost. Nor does the music. We All Die has a fabulously pumping bassline that drills forward as the guitars grind muddily. So even when Power is not singing we never lose interest; though when Cat Power sings she seems to bring us authority and (dare I say it) authenticity so that you can barely believe that she was in her early twenties when the album came out. This isnt sleazy music, but it has a certain sullied charm to it. Gorgeous and rewarding.
As is Great Expectations. A little like Enough, its more low-key, building up slowly; simple guitar riffs playing off against Powers almost (for her) whispy vocals. But as the guitar builds so does Power and as she suddenly drawls great expectations her voice imbues the words with meanings that may or may not exist. The simple power (no pun intended) of her voice just blows you away. She sounds weary, almost world weary and yet somehow not depressing or lowkey. Great Expectations feels honest and somehow very personal to Chan Mashall. But why? Maybe well never know. I suspect it is better that we never do.
Top Expert is one of the best (though apart from the last track theres nothing duff here and the last track is only bad as it seems to be a terrible piece of recording). Again, Power seems almost half-asleep when she sings and again somehow her voice imbues the power of her words with meaning that evade us. Or maybe its just that Im hooked on the sound of her voice? Yes, I suspect that it is. But again, the band does exactly what they need to do around her. They keep the song going, rocking and rolling, as it truly does roll beneath powers laidback approach to singing. Yet its actually often sublime music and matches Power for strength and sheer guts. Muddied, strident whines of guitar play under her just as the other is carefully composed.
Carefully composed is the introduction to Ice Water. Careful, careful guitar picking. Power sings: shes ten times heavier, stronger than she ever was. Again, you feel Power is dredging something personal up from within her and laying it before us with elegant ease. The song is so remorselessly and deceptively easy to listen to. Power makes us swallow what would otherwise be self-indulgent lyrics and I will drink myself to death. Never is Myra Lee self-indulgent. Ice Water keeps the tone of the album perfectly and leads into Still in Love, which is bluesier, more southern. A little slide guitar, a little warm sleepiness you got it, about as laid back as the album ever gets.
I suspect Still in Love is so laidback because its about to launch into Rockets, far and away my favourite track on the album and full of tension and oh me oh my do I love tension in music. The building bass, the growing guitar and then oh yes then and where do the dreams of babies gone? and though Cat Power seems to change so little vocally she seems to really pull out the tension, string it tight and taut. Somehow the words mirror the tension and yet I cannot quite say why. Its just one of those musical epiphanies. But I can tell you that this song is what music is designed for. The sort of song that you just put on repeat. What is different from the rest of the album? Errrr, dont know. Next question. Its a matter of effect and Rockets just gets it right. The guitar work, the drumming hits the right pitch and volume. Power seems to know just when to put that little bit extra into her vocals and when to let it rest easier and glide. OK, theres a couple of nice guitar riffs in there, simple, but good. Honest, almost. help keep your momma safe. Shes pretty good. You know shes pretty good. I dont how someone can imbue the lyrics which such hypnotic gorgeousness but Power does. Kudos, to her.
Faces is a little like Still in Love. Less tense than Rockets. I suspect Power thinks that too many Rockets and we may just explode. She may be right, too. Closer to a ballad than most of the songs on the album and one of the longer songs; yes, its nearly five minutes long. In rock and roll style most of the songs are only about four minutes long. Cat Power never drags a song out. Never gets indulgent (told you so repeatedly, ok, guilty as charged). She keeps the album tight. As is Fiance, being so short an instrumental that I almost never realised that it was a separate track. Though it is great and very like blues. Really good and raw and powerful blues; thirty seconds of grinding bliss then:
Wealthy Man. Not me (sadly), the song. It feels like Cat Power at her most troubled. Lately she has recovered from Clinical Depression and Wealthy Man is not surprising when you know that. It is not depressing just a little stark, melancholic. The kind of song that you have near the end of the album. Power really keeps things pared down to the bone. Her vocals are even more prominent than usual, only a very basic guitar riff keeps her company for the most part. Unlike so many vocalists, Power is able to carry the song with ease.
Now does she on Not What You Want? No idea. Its that strange final track that seems to be Cat Power and acoustic guitar but it is so hazy and distant that if it had come from the an old scratched blues recording from the 1920s you would not be surprised. Why is it on there? Again, not sure. I admit to skipping it. But because its frustrating. I suspect I might enjoy the music if only I could hear it properly
Ah, Cat Power, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance. There is something instantly recognisable and yet so very different in her vocals and her music. So often it seems very basic. A little like David Sylvian Cat Power has an aesthetic and an enormous talent but not necessarily any obvious virtuosity. But what she does have is remarkable. Vocally, she is stunning and her sound is unique and recognisable. Though not on this album, her cover of the Stones Satisfaction says it all. She doesnt cover it, she renders it barely recognisable as she makes it a Cat Power song.
Myra Lee is a Cat Power album. It is even in tone and occasionally impossibly tense and beautiful and yet curiously personal. If more people like Chan Marshall (sorry, Cat Power) were working and listened to, you feel the music industry would be such a more interesting place.
Thats my recommendation.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 We All Die
3 Great Expectations
4 Top Expert
5 Ice Water
6 Still In Love
10 Wealthy Man
11 Not What You Want