Monday, January 21, 2008

Cat Power - Jukebox


For an artist once famed for being erratic and inconsistent, Cat Power has hit a rare groove of regular form. The new clean, sober and focused Chan Marshall now knows when she’s onto a good thing. The Greatest was in many ways her breakthrough album, so new record Jukebox was unlikely to mess with the formula that made her a bit more of star last time around. It’s also meant that what could be seen as a Covers Record volume 2, was unlikely to repeat the breathy minimalism of that record. Not after she’s been back down south and toured with the Memphis Rhythm Band of such good ol’ legends as Teenie Hodges and Spooner Oldham. Her settled backing group of late, the aptly-named Dirty Delta Blues Band are the studio band here, and do a decent job of recreating the Greatest sound, except minus the horns and strings. So far though, sounds pretty good.

However, the thing with Jukebox is that it’s not that it’s a bad record as such, it’s just one that’s hard to imagine being truly loved by anyone. For people favourably disposed, as I am, to loping bluesy country-got-soul jammings, it’s ideal and I do like it, but there’s also something lacking. Mainly it’s variation. The jam lasts through most of the record, and although Marshall maintains her reputation as an artist who can transform the originals in the songs she covers, the result is that she ends up making them all sound pretty much the same. So there’s little variation in style and tempo between originals as widely different as New York, New York, Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Nick Cave’s Breathless. It’s all very well her stamping her own personality on other people’s songs (which all good cover versions should), but you can’t help but be left wanting something more. Which leaves the question of whether the newer, bigger Chan Marshall is actually any better than the old erratic one, musically at least. The revisiting of her own Metal Heart and lone new track Song for Bobby don’t offer much of a clue either. Until the new album proper drops, the jury’s still out.

Download: Cat Power – Breathless
Download: Cat Power – New York

Buy Jukebox from Rough Trade or from emusic


6 comments:

WEB SHERIFF said...

WEB SHERIFF
Protecting Your Rights on the Internet
Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
Fax 44-(0)208-323 8080
websheriff@websheriff.com
www.websheriff.com

Hi T-D-G,

On behalf of Matador Records, many thnaks for your plug for Cat Power ... .. we would, however, kindly ask you not to post copies of newly released "JUKEBOX" tracks on your blog.

We do appreciate that you are a fan of / are promoting Cat Power, but Matador would greatly appreciate your co-operation in removing your link to the pirate files in question.

With Thanks & Regards

WEB SHERIFF

Matthew said...

I was just about to pop in and let you know that those Web Sheriff mutts were sniffing around this particular album, Tim, but it appears someone beat me to it.

Hoi, Sheriff, instead of bothering people taking the time out to promote music perhaps you may wish to consider the hundreds of torrent downloads of this album available in its entirety for absolutely nothing instead. Shower of fuckwits.

The Daily Growl said...

Yeah, they're being particularly hyper-dilligent with this one. I purposely waited until it was released to post this as well, but they're still all guns blazing. I guess this is why it's surprisingly absent from the Hype Machine.

To a certain extent I don't mind this type of request that much, but what I do mind is them going to compain to my file host AFTER I TOOK THE FILES DOWN. Look, it's all very well coming across a bit friendly in the request, but I took these down pretty bloody quickly after getting this message, and they still contacted the file host.

Nice job in pissing off the whole music blogging community folks!

Matthew said...

That happened to me with my first host too: complaints about already-deleted files. Fuckwits.

Anyway, it might be worth keeping an eye on the elbo.ws music blogger message boards. Adam from Beggars is on there and pretty good about warning us when Web Sheriff has been sicced on any particular album.

Anonymous said...

SF Weekly

Matador Records Skips Important Credit on Cat Power's Jukebox

By Andy Tennille
Published: April 9, 2008

Jessie Mae Hemphill: Left out of the credits.

Despite near-ubiquitous praise for Chan Marshall's Jukebox covers from the songwriters and performers interviewed for this story, there is one artist whose friends believe Marshall cheated her.

In the album's liner notes, "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy" is credited as "Traditional, by Jessie Mae Hemphill, arranged by Chan Marshall, Public Domain."

Olga Wilhelmine Mathus, a San Francisco–based blues musician and founder of the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the northern Mississippi hill country blues tradition — says the song isn't in the public domain and that Hemphill owns the copyright. Mathus believes Marshall owes royalties to the late singer's estate.

"The money from that song should go to Jessie's estate and be divided up among her relatives, who, much like Jessie, are poor, elderly black people, many of whom are living off welfare," Mathus said. "This isn't anything new. It's unfortunate that most of the originators of blues music died in poverty because of situations similar to this."

Hemphill, a W.C. Handy Award–winning electric guitarist, songwriter, and singer, was born in Senatobia, Mississippi, in 1923. She spent decades playing on Beale Street in Memphis before releasing two albums in the 1980s and '90s. In 1993, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, leaving her unable to play guitar for the remaining 13 years of her life.

Some might dismiss Mathus' fervor for Hemphill's cause as sadness over the loss of a close friend and musical mentor, but it takes only a couple minutes of Internet searching to discover that "Lord Help the Poor and Needy" is indeed copyrighted to Jessie Mae Hemphill with Broadcast Music, Inc. and the United States Copyright Office.

When asked about the disputed credit on April 1, Matador Records cofounder Chris Lombardi seemed ready for the question. "We made a mistake and credited it incorrectly on the album," he said. "It's actually a Jessie Mae Hemphill song. I think we thought it was a traditional song and had not yet been registered, but her representatives contacted us recently and we're setting up the mechanical royalties now."

Dr. David Evans, a professor at the University of Memphis and Hemphill's publisher, said he wrote to Matador informing them of the omission after Jukebox was released in January. Lombardi said he was aware of the letter and insisted the label had been in touch with Evans. But just twelve hours earlier, Evans told SF Weekly he hadn't heard from Matador. When SF Weekly pointed out this discrepancy to Lombardi, he paused awkwardly. "Really?" he responded after a few moments. "Well, that's weird."

Shortly after the Weekly interviewed Lombardi for this article, Matador finally contacted Evans and Mathus, Evans confirms.

Evans, a specialist in African-American folk music, has produced more than 30 albums of field and studio recordings for the university's High Water Records label and is often credited with exposing Hemphill to wider audiences. "I started producing recordings of Jessie Mae in 1978, and two versions of those recordings have been licensed, one to Hi Tone Records and one to Inside Sounds," Evans explains. "Evidently, Cat Power heard one of these two recordings, as she makes mention of Jessie in the notes of her new album."

Even with the paper trails in place, Evans acknowledges that the very nature of early African-American folk music makes it difficult to ascertain its true composers. With the conflux of folk spirituals, field hollers, African tribal music, and gospel songs in the Mississippi hill country serving as the birthplace of the blues, many artists of Hemphill's era often borrowed a verse, chorus, or melody from a traditional song as a jumping-off point for their own material.

"American copyright laws go under the assumption that a work is wholly original in words and melody, or it uses words and melodies from another source that's either under copyright or in the public domain," Evans says. "But it's not that simple with some African-American musical traditions."

Nonetheless, Evans says other artists — singer-songwriters Mark Tolstrup and Kate Campbell — who have covered "Lord Help the Poor and Needy" knew enough about the song's origins to ask Hemphill's permission before recording it.

Even as Matador works to resolve the missing credit, the dispute raises an interesting question: Is the simple payment of publishing royalties enough recompense for copyright infringement? In 1985, blues legend Willie Dixon successfully sued and won credit and royalties from Led Zeppelin after alleging that their 1969 hit "Whole Lotta Love" was appropriated, without credit, from his "You Gotta Be Loved."

So what is ample restitution for infringing on an artist's copyrighted work? Mathus believes money is a good start, but hopes the attention Cat Power's music receives could ignite a spark of interest in Hemphill and her fellow musicians. "I think it's good that someone of Cat Power's visibility covers a song like this, as it makes it more accessible for the more mainstream audience," she says. "A lot of folks were turned on to R.L. Burnside after Jon Spencer came out with a record on him, so perhaps this will turn more people on to Jessie's music, the music of the north Mississippi hill country, and the life and struggles of many of these artists."

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