Cat Power (photo by Julien Bourgeois, PR)
It is hard to believe that it has been 23 years since Cat Power, the nom de plume of Charlyn Marie “Chan” Marshall, released her first solo album, Dear Sir. Since that time, Marshall has become one of indie rock’s most distinctive voices, and now at 46, she’s become a role model for scores of younger artists (like Jealous of the Birds' Naomi Hamilton, who wrote about her "Five Essential Cat Power Songs" for FUV Essentials).
Marshall's music is heavily inspired by her Southern roots. She was born in Atlanta, and because her family moved around a lot, she grew up and went to school in many different Southern locales. Her affinity for blues and soul, and her skill at filtering these influences through her own personality, has helped to create the distinctive style that she's used as Cat Power.
Wanderer, her tenth studio album, ends a six-year silence that followed her previous album, Sun. She parted from her longtime label, Matador, and Wanderer is her first release for her new label, Domino. It's a much more somber and low-key effort than the more pop-oriented Sun. In a label press release, Marshall says that Wanderer is her journey so far. "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," she writes. "Folk singers, blues singers and everything in between. They were all wanderers, and I am lucky to be among them.”
Calling the new album Wanderer was the perfect way to attach these new songs to the life she has led. The title track, which bookends the album as "Wanderer" and "Wanderer/Exit," shows that Marshall's roots are still firmly planted in American music traditions like folk and blues. It sounds like a traditional folk ballad, but one wrapped in a thick blanket of echo-drenched choral voices.
“You Get” trips its way along the route paced by an unconventional rhythm. “Robbin Hood” is a dark, bluesy acoustic song and “Nothing Really Matters" is a sparse, piano-based meditation. Wanderer includes Marshall's cover of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko's “Stay." One of the many musicians that Marshall has influenced, Lana Del Rey, lends backing vocals to the album’s manifesto, “Woman.”
Written and recorded over the course of the last few years, these songs were also spun from a place of joy for Marshall — her experience of motherhood. It's touching that her three-year-old son is pictured on the album’s cover.
Wanderer is Marshall’s powerful reflection on her journey thus far. It’s a document of a woman and artist taking stock on where she’s been and the disparate routes that have taken her to this place in time. It’s also a compass for a return voyage. Most of all, it poses a critical question for anyone: “How did I get here, and where do I go now?”