Jukebox makes for a smart and occasionally fantastic diversion.
Adam Webb 2008-01-04
With ten interpretations of other people's songs, a re-interpretation of her own material ("Metal Heart") and only one new number (the Dylan-inspired "Song For Bobby"), Chan Marshall's second covers album could be perceived as treading water. If that's the case, she treads with grace and purpose – backed by a combination of alt America side players (Jim White, the Blues Explosion’s Judah Bauer) and soul legends such as Spooner Oldham and Teenie Hodges. It runs the risk of pastiche, but mining the same early-70s Memphis vibe as 2006's The Greatest, Jukebox is mostly a salutary lesson in how music used to be.
Raw, one-take recordings ensure that more familiar songs are the most intriguing. Under Marshall's law, Sinatra's ''New York, New York'' is reclaimed from decades of Rat Pack hell, while an abridged Hank Williams' classic "Ramblin’ (Wo)man" becomes a midnight torch song. The shift from hillbilly death rattle to smooth soul-drenched ache is extraordinary.
Pitching herself between Marianne Faithful and Patti Smith, Marshall weaves between the instruments like a prizefighter. A diva wouldn’t occupy such shadows. However, her innate fragility resonates deeper than any lungbusting showboater. When Bauer hits one behind the beat, as on the Dylan-penned "I Believe In You", and the guitar riff cranks up and kicks in, it all sounds lazily perfect, like the Stones circa Sticky Fingers.
Not everything fares so well – closing covers of Billie, Janis and Joni are perhaps too obvious, too straight in interpretation – but a stripped down run at The Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion" shimmers with magic. At such moments, Chan Marshall momentarily clutches greatness. Overall, Jukebox makes for a smart and occasionally fantastic diversion, and worth the spare change from any right-thinking music lover's pocket.