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I can't believe I'm the first to review this record!
Cat Power, aka Chan (pronounced Shawn) Marshall, is an American singer/songwriter who's music probably falls somewhere between blues, indie alternative, and the occasional soul/jazz elements. You Are Free was far from her first release but it was probably the first that began to garner an international audience for the singer. The record also features input by some big stars in their own right including Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Dave Grohl, and Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three.
I'm just going to deal with my favourite tracks on the album. I Don't Blame you kicks the record off with a soft, melancholy, and yet angsty sound. All about the demands of performing in front of a crowd and feeling resentful towards the expectations, this is something that anyone who has seen Cat Power live will probably relate to in her own performances. She sometimes performs perfectly and people rave about her, other times she raves on stage, doesn't finish songs, and generally disappoints the audience. It's definitely hit and miss.
He War is a more rocky song, with electric guitar and Cat Power singing her own back up vocals. Her voice is really like honey - so silky and soulful but with a hint of something rougher in there that makes it interesting. You're never going to 'rock out' to Cat Power but it is certainly more than just another low fi indie album.
Names is a track dealing with the very heavy subject of child abuse and children who have fallen victim to drugs and other destructive influences. Structured as an introduction to the lives of the children, the song is very sparse - just piano and Cat's voice. It is an extremely powerful and sombre song, introducing such a strong emotional presence to the album. It's definitely engaging to find a musician who sings about something other than just the usual fluffy topics.
Baby Doll is again somewhat slow and minimalist - which is basically the signature of Cat Power's sound, allowing her voice to come to the fore - but this track incorporates a slightly more playful element to the underlying looping guitar riff. The guitar almost takes on the role of percussion here and the vocals are left really to their own devices, proving just how strong (clear, but fragile) that Cat's voice is. A song about freedom and reclaiming your life, the track is probably all the more poignant because it communicates its message quietly.
Werewolf sees the addition of a gorgeous violin track to the album. Cat's southern American drawling accent is much more obvious on songs like this and fits the bluesy/folksy sound of the violin to a tee. You have to hear her voice to appreciate it but there's something so interesting about the way she sings so quietly and insistently into the microphone - it's a very intimate sound, definitely not for a stadium concert, and feels almost as though she just woke up and is still somewhat dreamy.
Good Woman is probably one of the best known songs of the album. It uses both the violin and a mournful electric guitar to create again a very soulful but more indie sound. Essentially about the heartbreak of leaving someone you love, perhaps because there is someone else involved and you both know you can't be together at this time, the emotion rings so true in her voice. A children's choir is used for the backing vocals on the track and is probably one of the only songs I know where this works really well and doesn't come off sounding kitsch. There's a sense of longing and sadness that draws you in every time.
All in all this album is for you if you like something more introspective, but with a power at it's core. It isn't going to blow your socks off with a powerful sound but the strength of feeling and emotion will certainly blow your mind.