Wanderer by Cat Power

Release date: October 5, 2018
Label: Domino

One of my all time favourite songs is ‘The Greatest’ by Cat Power. Permanently camped in the corner of my brain that says Perfect Songs, this is the reason why there’s a flashlight goes off in my head when I see Chan Marshall’s AKA. That track is a heartbreaker and sumptuously played by real soul musicians while Chan’s vocals are a thing of wonder. In all honesty though, I can barely hum you any other of her songs. But that doesn’t exclude me from being able to provide some words on her tenth album Wanderer, though long term fans will need to appreciate this angle. Produced entirely by Marshall, the album features Lana Del Ray (bonus points) and finds the one time troubled soul in quiet and reflective mode. In so many ways the album reminds me of the Prince Avalanche soundtrack that Explosions In The Sky made a few years ago.

The album perfectly encapsulates a journey, as Marshall herself explains, “The course my life has taken in this journey – going from town to town, with my guitar, telling my tale; with reverence to the people who did this generations before me. Folk singers, blues singers, and everything in between. They were all wanderers, and I am lucky to be among them.” Opening and closing with the exquisite ‘Wanderer’ and ‘WandererExit’, a hymnal folk song recalling the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. The first version is a cappella and beautiful and haunting, indeed it sounds like some traditional folk song that has been around for centuries. An alternative version closes the album adding gently strummed guitars and warm brass.

Many of the tracks on Wanderer are downbeat and sparse in terms of instrumentation, with a lonely reverbed piano leading the way. Chan’s voice is pure and clear in tracks like ‘In Your Face’, not quite Tori Amos levels of kooky, but certainly getting there. Joan Wasser’s heartfelt, clever and complex song writing is comparable on the melancholic ‘Nothing Really Matters’. The cover version of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’ swaps the one-dimensional histrionics of the original with something more emotional, impassioned and personal.. Marshall tugs hard on the heartstrings in the ghostly ‘Me Voy’, declaring “I am leaving” only to be pleaded with to “wishing you would stay, don’t go tomorrow, don’t go anyway” but it falls on deaf ears. The push and pull lyrical flow showcasing Chan’s exemplary song writing ability.

Lana Del Ray’s sumptuous voice melts with Chan’s on the mellow groovy ‘Woman’, defiantly proclaiming “I’m a woman of my word, now haven’t you heard, my word’s the only thing I ever needed”. There are nods to jazz on the twitchy ‘You Get’ where Chan’s words fit to the beat that switches tempo and rhythm to startling effect. These are the fully formed songs on the album, there are also some tracks that are barely there in terms of instrumentation, the acoustic ‘Robbin Hood’ is a folk number with a simple melody that is oddly endearing albeit sketchy. Chan’s vocals are stunningly multi tracked to great effect on ‘Black’ over an acoustic campfire accompaniment.

Which just leaves one of the finest songs released this year, the sublime ‘Horizon’. A plaintive gorgeous guitar and piano loop breaks hearts while Chan delivers a heavenly perfect melody. As the song winds its way down a lonely road, the weirdest sounds begin to permeate the mix. Unbelievably, it’s our old chum autotune being used to astonishing effect. The unfathomable twists and melodies that Marshall conjures up are truly imaginative and stunning.

There is no denying that Chan Marshall knows her way round a great tune and is possessed of a voice that is natural and pure. The select few who know about her will continue to revel in their best kept secret and given Marshall’s personality and past this is probably a good thing. Wanderer is a lovely little album that really does transport you to a different place altogether and in this day and age, we all need a little escape. Take the trip.

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