Folk/indie

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - An­drew P. Street

Wan­derer Cat Power Domino Things have changed in the life of Chan Mar­shall, the hu­man be­hind the mer­cu­rial Cat Power. Some of them are on the cover of her 10th al­bum: a bat­tered acous­tic gui­tar, in­di­cat­ing that this is yet an­other right turn from the pre­vi­ous record, the keys and beats of 2012’s com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful Sun; a small tow­headed child (her three-year-old son); and a Domino logo, mark­ing her un­ex­pected and less-than-am­i­ca­ble de­par­ture from Mata­dor Records.

The six years be­tween Sun and Wan­derer also pre­sented sev­eral chal­lenges. Men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues that have made her such a notoriously hit-and-miss live per­former were side­lined by an auto-im­mune dis­or­der that threat­ened to end her tour­ing ca­reer al­to­gether.

Add pol­i­tics and moth­er­hood, and you get Wan­derer, an al­bum of quiet, al­most sub­ver­sive am­bi­tion. Its ti­tle and sleeve sug­gest a folk record by a trav­el­ling mu­si­cian bang­ing out pop­u­lar tunes in front bars and beer gar­dens, which may ex­plain why Mata­dor re­port­edly re­jected the al­bum and pressed a copy of Adele’s into Mar­shall’s hands as an in­di­ca­tion of what was ex­pected from her. And, to be fair, this most as­suredly is not.

That trou­ba­dour spirit is im­me­di­ately evoked in her pi­ano and cello de­con­struc­tion of Ri­hanna’s Stay, hark­ing back to her spec­tral ver­sion of the Stones’ Sat­is­fac­tion more than a decade ago. But sin­gle Woman — a duet with one-time tour­ing part­ner Lana Del Rey — is an ex­tra­or­di­nary piece of work, grow­ing from a lop­ing blues to a cho­rus Fleet­wood Mac would be proud of, be­fore ebbing back out like a tide. There’s a protest song of sorts in the form of In Your Face, and it’s hard to avoid spec­u­lat­ing that the quasiS­pan­ish of Me Voy is a mes­sage to a na­tion where Mex­i­can chil­dren are kept in bor­der­land im­mi­gra­tion camps.

I defy any­one not to be punched by Black’s jaun­tily ca­sual tale of a near-over­dose: “First I was amused, close to death ever been / But when the white light went away I knew death was set­ting in.” And that line neatly sums up the spirit of the al­bum, where dark­ness and light are cheek by jowl at all times. That said, those ar­rest­ing mo­ments come in what is oth­er­wise an al­bum that flows from one song to the next with lit­tle ob­vi­ous vari­a­tion.

That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, but it makes it harder for new lis­ten­ers to find some­thing they can grab on to. As a re­sult, any fans of Ri­hanna or Del Rey — or, for that mat­ter, Adele — who fig­ure they may have a ca­sual lis­ten through their “re­lated artists” tab may be in for a rather more har­row­ing au­dio jour­ney than they ex­pected.

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