Cat Power’s latest makes it under the wire at 12 songs and just shy of 43 minutes. It is titled The Greatest. When someone names a record The Greatest, my tendency is to expect it will hit me over the head with, well, greatness on the first listen. That didn’t happen to me with this record. Instead, it was more of a surprise ambush on the second, third, and fourth listens – each listen revealing yet more and deeper levels of – well, yeah – greatness. What The Greatest has are all the fundamentals that make any record – well, you know – great melodies. Tasteful, intuitive arrangements serve the songs, rather than burying them with ambitious busyness. The production engenders a tangible sound and feel, but likewise serves the songs. It also serves the players on the record, allowing their performances to glow, more than shine. And glow compliments Chan Marshall’s way of singing, her hushed unsettling way of cutting through noise and static. The combined effect is an understated, tentative, yet determined soulfulness that is refreshingly human. A record that was made, rather than manufactured.
(Oh, and speaking of players on the record, if you’re a fan of Al Green or the Memphis Soul sound – or simply of people who have forgotten more about music than the rest of us will ever know – add that to your list of reasons why you should check out The Greatest. Appearing on the record are Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, Al Green’s guitarist and songwriting partner, and his brother Leroy “Flick” Hodges, playing guitar and bass, respectively. The rest of the band is mostly anchored in Memphis and its musical past.)
In the end, however, my favorite track is “Where is My Love.” Sweet, sad and spare, the song consists of only piano, voice, and a perfect string arrangement. This album is everything Cat Power has always done well. Made fresh and new, set in the middle of what is – in its quiet, subtle and soulful way, a truly great accomplishment.