The idea of a cover album makes sense. It is sometimes easy to forget that artists are also fans, so it's logical that they would want to emulate the people who inspire them to make music. More often than not, the cover album is the remit of those who don't really have much talent of their own (see Mandy Moore's Coverage), but in some cases -- especially in Chan Marshall's -- artists use covers to dress themselves up in a different skin.
The problem, though, is that unlike The Covers Record from 2000, Marshall is not really doing that anymore. The Covers Record was an opportunity to get away from the unsparing sadness and harsh construction of her original work (not completely, of course). In addition to allowing Cat Power to sing songs that she presumably loved, it allowed her to sound happy and, in some cases, transported.
The songs on the Dark End of the Street EP are well-sung and nicely arranged, but they are missing that vital thing that turns a song into a necessary document of feeling and experience. They lack soul, which is especially harmful since Marshall has pretty much chosen to become a soul singer.
Two of the songs, "Dark End of the Street" and "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," don't really have this problem, and are large and affecting. But that's two out of six. The other four tracks include cliché classic-rock radio warhorse "Fortunate Son" and an unpleasantly soundtrack-y version of the Pogues' "Ye Auld Triangle."
The Dark End of the Street EP suggests that if Cat Power wants to rescue herself from lounge-singer territory, then she should either take her phenomenal voice and apply it to more interesting material, a la Bonnie Prince Billy, or just write some original material.
There's much to be said for a beautiful voice interpreting an excellent song, and Chan Marshall, a.k.a. Cat Power, has shown a great appreciation for this fact on her two previous cover albums. This time out, she offers a collection that crosses the pond to cover the Pogues, goes back to the Sixties for Creedence Clearwater Revivial's "Fortunate Son," and explores classic Motown with interpretations of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. The collection takes its name from James Carr's oft-covered soul classic, which has been called the epitome of the fabled Muscle Shoals sound.
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