Now Hear This! Music Reviews

Cat Power
Jukebox- Matador Records

Like the cigarette ad says: You’ve come a long way, baby!

Chan Marshall—aka Cat Power—notoriously began her career with a two string guitar and the word “no” sung chaotically (and surprisingly melodically) over and over again for fifteen minutes. Since then her sparse arrangements and blatant disregard for anything even remotely pop sounding have made her something of a cult diva in certain circles.

With her eighth studio album Jukebox, a collection of mostly covers a-la her earlier “The Covers Record”, Power has once more upped the proverbial ante by delivering classically familiar songs like “Fortunate Son”, “New York”, and “Blue” in ways that almost completely defy the traditional delivery of the songs making them distinctly her own. All of this while still keeping production spare and organic and maintaining her DIY approach to music.

After the success of last year’s “The Greatest” as well as this gem (which debuted at #12 on Billboard) you can bet on even greater things to come for Cat Power. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, or Hank Williams in quite the same way again. For a real treat, check out the special edition bonus disk that sports—among other things—a breathtaking take on Nick Cave’s “Breathless” as well as a version of Patsy Cline’s hit “She’s Got You” that isn’t recommended listening for anyone who is prone to cutting themselves in depressive fits. The rest of you need to go out and buy it now!    

K.D. Lang
Watershed – Nonesuch

Her tenth studio album and the first collection of new material since 2000’s Invincible Summer, Watershed marks K.D. Lang’s triumphant return to songwriting.

From the dreamy opening of “I Dream of Spring” to the soulful drawl of “Close Your Eyes” all the way through to the last banjo twangs of “Jealous Dog,” Lang revisits many of the sounds she has embraced throughout the years including country, pop, bossa nova influences and good old fashioned torch singing blending them all together in a package of alluring passion that is unmatched by many of her contemporaries.

Lang has done with her voice and her songwriting what should always be expected of the truly talented as they age—like a fine wine they should get better and better with time. Intimate and sophisticated, Watershed is perhaps the best work Lang has produced since 1992’s Ingénue.  

Break the Spell – Rubberneck Records

I have to say I was really let down by this album. While I have been a fan of Ellis’ since her first album Soft Day in 1996, it has always been the intimacy of the work that drew me most to her.

There is something alive about Ellis’ music when it is heard live that used to translate itself incredibly through to the recording that seems mostly absent from Break the Spell. While her songwriting is strong and the music isn’t bad by any means, this album could easily be any other girl with a guitar type from Catie Curtis to Cris Williamson. And while those comparisons are by no means an insult, there is little it seems about this album that really distinguishes itself—or Ellis for that matter—from the pack.

My advice: Buy the album or not, but make a point of seeing Ellis live if you get the chance. It’s always an incredible experience.

Ellis will be performing in the round at the Bluebird Café in Green Hills on Tuesday, Feb. 19, with Larie McClain, Rod Picott and Storyhill.

Idina Menzel
I Stand – WEA/Reprise

Musical theatre queens, attention!

With her third album, Tony award winning star of Broadway Musicals Rent and Wicked has returned with a vengeance. This time out, Menzel has recruited producer Glen Ballard (of Alanis Morissette fame) to co-write most of the eleven songs on the album.

Menzel is strongest on tracks like “I Stand” and “Brave” when the music seems to imitate her familiar stage work. Some of the weaker tracks like “Better to Have Loved” are still engaging because of Ballard’s more-than-capable ear for catchy music combined with Menzel’s pitch-perfect delivery.

While the album is a bit over-glossy for my taste, Menzel fans will eat it up and beg for more. It could be worse. At least it’s not Menzel’s fellow Rent alumnus Daphne Rubin-Vega trying to warble her way through another badly written pop song! EGADS!

All reviewed items are available for purchase or special order from OutLoud! Books & Gifts at 1703 Church Street in Nashville.

Enter to win free copies of this week’s reviewed albums by e-mailing with your name and mailing address in the body with “NHT” in the subject line. All winners are drawn at random and will be notified by e-mail of their winnings. All prizes are sent via U.S. Postal Service within 14 days of notification.

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