Cat Power’s ‘Covers’ blends unrelated inspiration in near-perfect harmony

Cat Power album cover
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Though it has been more than 20 years since the release of Cat Power’s first cover compilation, The Covers Record, the album continues to impact the indie music scene. From her famed rendition of Phil Phillips’ “Sea Of Love,” to her lesser-known but just as impactful cover of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the LP serves as a baseline for what makes a cover record successful. 

Kicking off 2022 with a much-needed boost of musical ingenuity, the release of Cat Power’s Covers could not have come at a better time. Featuring brand-new versions of songs from artists such as Lana Del Rey and Frank Ocean, all the way to Jackson Browne and Iggy Pop, Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) does not shy away from a wide-ranging field of musical inspiration. Drenched in beautiful guitar tones, entrancing soundscapes and Marshall’s undeniably impressive vocals, the record feels completely united throughout its track list — an impressive feat considering how disjointed the original songs may seem when placed alongside each other.

The LP’s opener simultaneously serves as one of the most unique songs within the album’s playthrough, as well as one of the best. During a minimalistic yet captivating rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” the production trades original string and organ-heavy instrumentals for that of pianos and electric guitars. Throughout the track, Marshall performs intense melodic and lyrical transformations to Ocean’s song, leaving it nearly unrecognizable.  However, her rendition remains just as heart-wrenching and listenable as Ocean’s original. Melding Ocean’s lyrical motif of “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion,” to that of, “If it didn’t bring me to my knees/ All these bad religions” and later, “The city keeps hurting me/ Keeps bringing me to my knees/ All these bad religions,” Marshall makes the song her own, blending her individual experiences with the song’s core sentiments of heartbreak and loss of faith.

The record’s take on “White Mustang” by Lana Del Rey is similarly impressive. The  track is an unsurprising addition –– the two artists previously collaborated on the single “Woman” from Marshall’s prior 2018 LP Wanderer. However, Marshall brings Del Rey’s melodies into a completely new light. With heavily layered vocals, a mesmerizing lead guitar and an emotion-provoking instrumental buildup within the track’s second half, the cover both does justice to Del Rey’s song and improves upon it. Heavily reminiscent of her 2012 album Sun, the track’s instrumentation is bound to please the Cat Power fandom and casual listeners alike.

Jackson Browne’s “These Days” is perhaps the most notable of Marshall’s picks for the record. Because Marshall’s version takes more inspiration from Nico’s rendition of the song, the track serves as a cover of a cover (coverception, if you will). Yet, it still manages to maintain Browne’s original integrity. Backed only by a fingerpicked electric guitar, Marshall’s vocals shine brightly throughout the poignant listen. A master of harmonies, Marshall’s dueling vocal tracks complement each other seamlessly and serve to make the melancholic song even more emotive. Through slight melodic changes and a slowed-down tempo, Marshall again makes the song her own all while creating what very well could be the track’s best cover to date.

With each track on the album bringing Marshall’s own personal flair, there is not a single skip throughout the record’s runtime. While listeners could argue that the instrumentation of each cover blends together a bit too much, it would be impossible to name a track throughout the LP that should have been removed or replaced.  Releasing a record consisting solely of covers is a dangerous feat to say the least; it holds the opportunity to disappoint listeners and leave them wanting more. On Covers, however, Marshall proves to her audience that such possibilities pose no danger to her musical prowess, as her latest album is one of the best cover records to be released within distant musical memory.

Contact Ian Fredrickson at [email protected].