To finish off her year of the cover version, Chan Marshall clears the vaults with some more moody blues via Dark End of The Street. Available only as a double 10″ single and digital download, this six track EP concludes Cat Power‘s second act of the art of the cover version, starting with 2000’s The Covers Album and this years Jukebox.
Arriving in January, Jukebox‘s original tracklisting was to feature two of the more familiar songs (James Carr’s “Dark End Of The Street” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”) from Marshall’s initial selection, but at the last minute they were substituted for the traditional song “Lord, Help The Poor and Needy” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”, which caused consternation amongst fans at the time. Finally presented here a good twelve months later, Marshall adds her languid Southern lilt to a further four more interpretations of songs written or made popular by The Pogues, Sandy Denny, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding.
The same issues that befell Jukebox still apply. Assembling a band of more than qualified musicians, and with Marshall’s own ability to transfer an unhitherto unknown song into something special is not without question. It’s just that often her low-key readings result in a kind of loose, soporific haze that not even the Dirty Delta Blues boys can rescue. The oft-covered “Dark End Of The Street”, already a plaintive, secretive ballad loses nothing in the translation. The opportunity arises to shift gears with Creedence’s “Fortunate Son”, but Marshall strips the track down to piano, violin and kick drum, taking the sting out of John Fogerty’s snarling attack on the privileged in wartime.
Familiarity with any of the tracks goes out the window at this point. Marshall crosses continents for the Irish ballad “Ye Auld Triangle” a track originally written by Brendan Behan and covered by The Pogues and UK Folk-singer Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where Time Goes”, the latter being almost indistinguishable from Marshall’s own compositions. Otis Reddings’ “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” is given a passionate workout but Marshall’s range isn’t sufficient enough to belt out the high notes to match Redding’s original powerful delivery. The climactic finish to the track does succeed in finally bringing some dirt out of the Dirty Delta Blues Band.
The unfortunate thing here is Marshall has no problem covering tunes like The Nerve’s “Hanging On The Telephone” and Cat Steven’s “How Can I Tell You” for TV commercials and leaving us to revisit those 30 seconds of bliss over and over. It’s one thing to suggest her taste in music is too broad for a general audience but it’s another to know that hey, given the right circumstance she can take something reasonably modern and make it breathtaking. Not all of us are (and neither is Chan), children of the sixties, nor an obscure 60’s freak either. Some of you may share her penchant for folk, soul and blues and will enjoy this, but ultimately Dark End of The Street proves that Marshall could sing the telephone book and make it sound like a torch song.