Cat Power Jukebox Matador

Cat Power's music has changed to the point that I'm more comfortable handing Jukebox off to my mom than listening to it myself. No offense is meant toward mothers worldwide. It's just that fans of the eerie, reclusive Cat Power of old will have to work harder to find the good in her second covers LP. Luckily for Chan Marshall, in following her muse away from that style, she's opening herself up to a wide world of new listeners.

Jukebox is Cat Power at her most Starbucks-ready, full of smoky soul jams and sultry acoustic blues. Marshall flirted with this style on The Greatest but avoided the paint-by-numbers pitfalls she occasionally stumbles into here. Those songs had flashes of soul-check the sassy horns on "Lived In Bars" and "Could We" and the organ swells on "Living Proof"-but they were folded neatly into her distinctive songwriting style, steeped in pop-rock and tightly arranged.

Cat Power Jukebox Matador

Cat Power's music has changed to the point that I'm more comfortable handing Jukebox off to my mom than listening to it myself. No offense is meant toward mothers worldwide. It's just that fans of the eerie, reclusive Cat Power of old will have to work harder to find the good in her second covers LP. Luckily for Chan Marshall, in following her muse away from that style, she's opening herself up to a wide world of new listeners.

Jukebox is Cat Power at her most Starbucks-ready, full of smoky soul jams and sultry acoustic blues. Marshall flirted with this style on The Greatest but avoided the paint-by-numbers pitfalls she occasionally stumbles into here. Those songs had flashes of soul—check the sassy horns on "Lived In Bars" and "Could We" and the organ swells on "Living Proof"—but they were folded neatly into her distinctive songwriting style, steeped in pop-rock and tightly arranged.

Marshall finds success on Jukebox when she forgoes her recent blues fascination altogether. Her quiet take on the Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion" and Greatest-style interpretation of Bob Dylan's "I Believe In You" are two album highlights because Marshall makes them her own, not content to dwell in shapeless haze that dominates much of the album. Songs like the completely made-over "New York" and reconfigured "Ramblin' (Wo)man" work fine in a vacuum, but one after another they inspire longing for the crisp minimalism of Marshall's You Are Free days.

Stylistic tics aside, the real trouble with Jukebox—and The Covers Record, for that matter—is Marshall's renditions of other people's songs don't stand up to her own stirring compositions. It's hard to buy into the much-accepted notion of Marshall as a master of reinterpretation when the two best songs on this disc are Cat Power originals, a revamped "Metal Heart" and the brand-new "Song To Bobby."

Marshall's new identity as a lounge singer will undoubtedly go over well with coffee house patrons worldwide, but those with a taste for her sharp songwriting and intimate confessions will have to wait for the next Cat Power album. This one is little more than a pleasant diversion, though it would make a splendid Mothers Day gift.

Grade: B- Download: "Metal Heart"

Hello, Blue Roses The Portrait Is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty Locust

I knew I wasn't going to love Hello, Blue Roses from the first five seconds, when Sydney Vermont's soprano rang out over acoustic guitar with Renaissance flair. But I gave this debut the benefit of the doubt because Vermont's boyfriend and collaborator in this album, Dan Bejar, has such an enjoyable set of records to his name.

Most fans know Bejar for his work with power-pop supergroup the New Pornographers, for whom he writes and sings about three songs per album. That association has raised the profile of his solo work under the Destroyer name, a rambling set of high-minded, Bowie-biting compositions that live up to their grand ambitions more often than not. Indie kid completists might also know Swan Lake, his collaboration with Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer and Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown.

Few of those works approach perfection, but most are good for a stimulating listen and a handful of brilliant tracks. So I gave The Portrait Is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty the same attention I would any other Bejar project. Though I doubt I'll return to it any time soon, I don't regret the time I spent inside Vermont and Bejar's world.

For all my talk of Bejar, this record is first and foremost a vehicle for Vermont's songwriting. The press release describes "Aquarian Age femme folk" as an influence, and that phrase conjures the same imagery I see when Vermont cuts loose. Her songs seem to flutter across meadows and sleep in late, recalling a sort of old-fashioned bohemian existence that it's not too hard to imagine her living out with Bejar. These tunes don't tickle my fancy, but I could see them resonating strongly with a certain sect of listeners keen on Lilith Fair folk, old Joni Mitchell records and the wonderfully overblown pop duets of the 1980s.

Bejar's arrangements and the interplay of his background vocals turn these songs from pleasant, unmemorable folk ditties into tracks worth listening to many times over for the chance to discover new secrets hidden down deep. Few of the songs rely on percussion, instead hovering through clouds of standard Bejar orchestration—rock, classical and left-field instruments deployed in moving fashion.

This music is obviously the work of a loving partnership, but that's not what appeals about it. So many such projects are horribly insular, with little appeal for anyone but the two performers involved. Hello, Blue Roses transcends that suffocation at times by translating that intimate lovers' world into something universal.

Grade: B- Download: "Shadow Falls"