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Cat Power :: My Favorite Artists

Cat Power, or should I say Chan Marshall, came into my life in the Autumn of 2003. She’d had a few albums by then, but they’d previously passed me by. I was sent a song of hers, Metal Heart, from a long distance friend who said he’d thought of me the second he’d heard it. I kept playing it, over and over and over and over, and over again. I was obsessed with it, the sadness, the heft of sound, the way it reminded me of The Velvet Underground and Hope Sandoval and Patti Smith and Ryan Adams.

Next it was Cross Bones Style that he sent to me, and I fell just as hard for its haunting style and sound.

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Those songs, and Chan’s voice, reminded me of New York City, not that I had (or even have now) any real memories of the city I’ve never stepped foot in, but still, it made me remember a city I’d never been to. It played out as a soundtrack to my dreams of being there, of how I would feel there, of how the city seemed to me.

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Soon after I bought the album (Moon Pix), along with The Covers Record. The latter beat out the former in playing and listening, but I have always been such a sucker for a good cover, and there is not a bad one in the bunch. I Found a Reason was my favorite (still is). I felt a deep hearted, emotionally-charged connection to it, as if the song was saying things I longed to say but couldn’t find the words to explain. Wild is the Wind and Sea of Love stuck with me, too, both of them becoming love letters delivered in the shape of mixed CD’s sent off to a poet I once so deeply loved.

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One afternoon, in Chicago, when The Greatest had first come out I talked a record store clerk out of a poster meant to hang on their walls. It was one of those small moments that I felt so bold and brave, fueled by the passion of a new love realized. The album will always remind me of living in that “Windy city” and the love I fell into there.

Chan is one of my all-time favorite voices of song, and also one of my most favorite artists when it comes to covering songs (there are so many of Cat Power’s covers that I adore). I love a lot of work she’s done with other artists, including Handsome Boy Modeling School and Eddie Vedder.

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My one Cat Power regret? That I have not seen her perform live yet. Chan Marshall live and New York City, I hope someday to experience them both.

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Charlyn Marie Marshall, also known as Chan Marshall, or by her stage name, Cat Power, is an American singer-songwriter, musician, occasional actress and model. Cat Power was originally the name of Marshall’s first band, but has come to refer to her musical projects with various backing bands.

Marshall was discovered opening for Liz Phair in 1994 by Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar, with whom she recorded her first two albums, Dear Sir (1995) and Myra Lee (1996), on the same day in 1994. In 1996 she signed with Matador Records, and released a third album of new material with Shelley and Foljahn, What Would the Community Think. Following this she released the critically acclaimed Moon Pix (1998), recorded with members of the Dirty Three, and The Covers Record (2000), a collection of sparsely recorded cover songs. After a brief hiatus she reemerged in 2003 with You Are Free, featuring guest musicians Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder, followed by the soul-influenced The Greatest (2006), recorded with numerous Memphis studio musicians, and a second covers album, Jukebox (2008). In 2012 she released the self-produced Sun, which opened at # 10 on the Billboard 200, the highest charting album of her career to date.

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Charlyn Marshall was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1972. Marshall’s father, Charlie, is a blues musician and pianist. Her parents divorced when she was a child and remarried shortly thereafter. Her mother remarried, and the family traveled around a lot because of her stepfather’s job. Marshall attended ten different schools throughout the southern United States in places such as Greensboro; Bartlett and Memphis and throughout Georgia and South Carolina. At times she was left with her grandmother. She was not allowed to buy records when she was growing up, but she listened to her stepfather’s record collection which included such artists as Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Rolling Stones, as well as her parents’ records, which included Black Flag, Sister Sledge, and Barry White.

Marshall has stated that religion was large part of her Southern upbringing; her father was a Jehovah’s Witness, though she attended Southern Baptist churches with her grandmother, where she began singing while learning hymns.

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Marshall became estranged from her mother at 16, having no contact with her until she was 24 and says they are still not close. Her first instrument was a 1950’s Silvertone guitar, which she did not touch for a year after buying it. After that year, Marshall taught herself to play guitar, and in 2014 admitted that she still didn’t “even know the names of chords.”

Marshall began playing music in Atlanta with a collective of musicians made up of Glen Thrasher, Marc Moore, Damon Moore and Fletcher Liegerot, who would get together for jam sessions in a basement. The group were booked for a show and had to come up with a name quickly, when a man walked through the door of the pizzeria where Marshall worked, wearing a Caterpillar trucker cap that read: “Cat Diesel Power“. Marshall immediately decided on Cat Power as the name of the band.

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In 1992, at the age of 20, she moved to New York City with Glen Thrasher. It was Thrasher who introduced her to New York’s free-jazz and experimental music scene. In particular she cites a concert by Anthony Braxton with giving her the confidence to perform in public. Her first New York show was at a warehouse in Brooklyn and she has described her early New York shows as “more improvisational.” One of her shows during this period was as the support act to Man or Astro-man? and consisted of her playing a two-string guitar and singing the word “no” for fifteen minutes.

Marshall recorded simultaneously her first two albums Dear Sir and Myra Lee in December 1994 in a small basement studio near Mott Street in New York City, with guitarist Tim Foljahn and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley; Marshall and Shelley had initially met after she played a show opening for Liz Phair in 1993. A total of 20 songs were recorded in a single day by the trio, all of which were split into two records, making up Dear Sir and Myra Lee, released respectively in October 1995 and March 1996.

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In 1996, Chan Marshall signed to Matador Records and in September released her third album, What Would the Community Think, which she recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in February 1996. The album was produced by Shelley and again featured Shelley and Foljahn as backing musicians, and spawned a single and music video, Nude as the News.

In 1997, Marshall moved to Portland, Oregon, planning to retire from the music business, and then relocated to a rural farmhouse in Prosperity, South Carolina. While living alone in the farmhouse, Marshall experienced a hypnogogic nightmare that became the inspiration for her following album, Moon Pix, released in 1998. Marshall recounted the experience in 2012.

Moon Pix was recorded at Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, Australia in 11 days with backing musicians Mick Turner and Jim White of the Australian band, Dirty Three. It was strongly received by critics, and along with an accompanying music video for the song Cross Bones Style, helped her gain further recognition in the indie rock scene.

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By 2000, Marshall stated that she had grown tired of touring her own material. This resulted in a series of shows during 1999 where Marshall provided musical accompaniment to the silent movie The Passion of Joan of Arc. The shows combined original material and many covers, many of which would later see release on Marshall’s fifth album, The Covers Record. Released in 2000, The Covers Record was a collection of cover songs by Marshall recorded at various sessions in 1998 and 1999. A selection of covers that didn’t make it on to the album were recorded at Peel Acres, home of the British DJ John Peel. The session was broadcast on his BBC Radio 1 show and featured Marshall’s own interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Hard Times in New York Town and Oasis’s Wonderwall, amongst a couple of others.

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In 2003, Marshall released You Are Free, her first album of original material in five years. The album became the first charting Cat Power album, reaching # 105 on the Billboard 200.

In 2006, Marshall released her seventh album, The Greatest. Recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, it was not a greatest hits collection but rather a Southern soul-influenced album of new material featuring numerous veteran Memphis studio musicians, including Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, Leroy Hodges, David Smith and Steve Potts. The album opened at # 34 on the Billboard 200. It was also named the number 6 best album of 2006 by Rolling Stone Magazine.

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In January 2008, Marshall released her second covers album, Jukebox. Recorded with her recently assembled “Dirty Delta Blues Band“, which consisted of Judah Bauer from the Blues Explosion, Gregg Foreman of The Delta 72, Erik Paparazzi of Lizard Music and Jim White of the Dirty Three, the album featured the original song Song to Bobby, Marshall’s tribute to Bob Dylan, and a reworking of the Moon Pix song Metal Heart. In December 2008 she released Dark End of the Street, an EP consisting of songs left over from the Jukebox sessions.

In February 2012, Marshall cancelled a scheduled appearance in Tel Aviv, Israel, citing “much confusion” and that she felt “sick in her spirit.” She had faced calls to boycott the Jewish state over its conflict with Palestine. Two months later, she cancelled her appearance at the Coachella Music Festival, claiming that she “didn’t think it was fair to play Coachella while my new album is not yet finished,” also hinting that her forthcoming record is “almost done” and will see release later in 2012.

Marshall’s ninth studio album, titled Sun, was released on September 3, 2012, with lead single Ruin being released as a free download at Matador Record’s store on June 20, 2012.

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My Top 10 Favorite Cat Power Songs:

1. Cross Bones Style
from the album, Moon Pix

“Cause you have seen some unbelievable things.”

2. Lived in Bars
from the album, The Greatest

We’ve lived in bars,
and danced on the tables,
hotels, trains and ships that sail
.”

3. He War
from the album, You are Free

I never meant to be the needle that broke your back.
You were here,
you were here,
and you were here,
don’t look back
.”

4. Metal Heart
from the album, Moon Pix

Sew your fortunes on a string,
and hold them up to light
.”

6. The Greatest
from the album, The Greatest

Once I wanted to be the greatest,
no wind or water fall could stall me,
and then came the rush of the flood,
the stars at night turned deep to dust
.”

7. I Found a Reason
from the album, The Covers Record

Oh, I do believe,
in all the things you see.
What comes is better than what came before
.”

8. Tonight You Belong to Me :: Cat Power & Eddie Vedder
from the album, Ukulele Songs

I know you belong to somebody new,
but tonight you belong to me
.”

9. I Don’t Blame You
from the album, You are Free

“Been around the world,
in many situations,
been inside many heads in different positions,
but you never wanted them that way
.”

10. Ruin
from the album, Sun

“I’ve seen gypsies who made it all the way,
and kept going,
kept rolling with nowhere to go,
nowhere to go.”

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