While on her three recordings she's backed by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Two Dollar Guitar-ist Tim Foljhan, Cat Power is essentially Chan (pronounced "Shawn") Marshall. And although she herself plays guitar, her music is essentially the pin-drop voyages her voice takes. As heard on her stunning new What Would the Community Think (Matador), Marshall writes songs that could be loosely described as dark folk rock, but the warm, slow glow of guitar arpeggios is secondary to the naked, melodic expressiveness of her singing. Despite--or maybe because of--apparent technical flaws (cracks, flubbed notes) she manages a rare sort of vulnerability; the mistakes seem to be by-products of urgency, like the ones in the singing of Palace's Will Oldham. Within a single phrase Marshall can shift from piercing conviction to fragile beauty to utter fear. "Cathartic" is a word bandied about too loosely in regard to artists, but it suits Marshall perfectly. Performing--especially solo, as she will for this Chicago debut--Marshall struggles with stage fright, but as she trudges through, eyes cast down, she squeezes out raw, striking beauty. I've seen Polly Jean Harvey, Scrawl's Marcy Mays, and the Spinanes' Rebecca Gates mentioned as reference points for Marshall's singing, but while she shares traits with all three, her unaffected primitivism, the way she avoids polishing her emotions, is all her own. Seeing her perform could be hard work and it might not be that fun, but it's bound to be riveting. Guv'ner and Hugh open. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by R. Kern.