Cat Power: You Are Free

Cat Power: You Are Free

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Cat Power

Album: You Are Free
Label: Matador
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Cat Power

Album: You Are Free
Label: Matador

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Left on the lyric sheet, the words to Cat Power's "Free" don't admit much in the way of irony. But however much the singer (real name: Chan Marshall) may mean singsong lines like "take a chance / a true romance," there's a dramatic distance between the words and her tremulous delivery. Like Emily Dickinson's celebrations of nature's power, Marshall explorations of freedom seem based more in theory than experience; they always seem on the verge of undermining themselves. Whether this is any reflection of the real Marshall is less relevant than her persona's memorable ability to haunt its way through You Are Free, her first album of new material since 1998's Moon Pix. Composed mostly of quiet piano- or guitar-driven tracks, Free brings the theme of escape to such subjects as reluctant rock stars ("I Don't Blame You"), impossible love ("Good Woman"), and lost souls ("Babydoll"). Free's seldom-abandoned eerie remove sometimes makes getting away from it all seem like a bleak prospect. Like Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" recast as an aching ballad, "Names" cycles through a list of friends who met bad ends or dead ends at too tender an age, but the quavery sympathy of Marshall's approach rescues the song from mere morbidity. A spare, quiet approach dominates the album: Marshall relies on the sound of hesitating beauty, but she remains a dominant presence. Even secret guest stars not known for their restraint–billed with the initials E.V. and D.G., they shared a city and a sound in the early '90s–are mostly a subliminal presence. Rarely breaking from a single, unrelenting mood, Free has a tendency to repeat itself: It could stand to be broken up by more uptempo tracks like "He War," particularly since Marshall does well with them. But with more variety, maybe the mood wouldn't carry so well, and perhaps her seemingly oxymoronic notion of escape through retreat wouldn't sound quite so hypnotic.

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