Matador - 2006 - 41 minutes
It's easiest to get it out of the way at the start: don't make the mistake of thinking that Chan Marshall aka Cat Power's latest album, 'The Greatest', is a greatest hits release. Rather than a career retrospective of this often awkward artist, this is Marshall on a Memphis trip with a selection of self-penned songs, in a gorgeous recreation of the sensuous, slinky, Hi Records sound of the 1970s.
She recruited her backing musicians from the Memphis soul scene with, amongst others, Steve Potts, who plays drums with Booker T and the MG's, anchoring the band alongside Al Green's boys, Teenie Hodges (the co-writer of Green's inimitable 'Take Me to the River') on guitar and his brother, Leroy 'Flick' Hodges, on bass.
There's little in Marshall's past releases, which drew heavily on American folk music, country and the blues, to suggest the straightforward beauty of 'The Greatest'. A notoriously withdrawn singer-songwriter, she sounds almost upbeat on many of the tracks here, her smoky voice finding a remarkable setting amongst the Memphis horns, funky string arrangements and smooth backing vocals which populate this record. While Marshall sings songs of loss and longing, beguiling rhythms sugar-coat the bitter pill and there's an unmistakable swing to 'The Greatest', especially on 'Could We' and closing track 'Love and Communication'.
While fans will love the seductive air of languid relaxation on this album, even former Marshall-sceptics won't be able to resist the classic feel of 'The Greatest'.
Tracklisting: The Greatest - Living Proof - Lived In Bars - Could We - Empty Shell - Willie - Where Is My Love - The Moon Islands - After It All - Hate - Love and Communication