Few singers are as eloquently acquainted with the loneliness at the heart of devotion as Cat Power's Chan Marshall. In “Song to Bobby,” she details her lifelong, one-sided love affair with Bob Dylan. She's a teenager at an outdoor show, screaming as he plays her favorite song; then she's in some arena, convinced he's singing his third encore just to her. Once she attains renown of her own, a miraculous phone call comes that Dylan wants to meet her. “Backstage pass in my hand/ Giving you my heart was my plan,” she sings, emulating Dylan's choppy cadence and nasal vowels. But Dylan, ever magisterial, remains out of reach; the song trails off before the meeting comes to fruition.
Jukebox is much more than a sequel to Cat Power's 2000 album The Covers Record. Though it contains a similar preponderance of other people's material, Jukebox is more forcefully and deeply about the risks and ecstasy of losing oneself in music. On The Covers Record, Marshall remade every track in her image, proving that even a petulant anthem like “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” wasn't immune to her drab, dirgy touch; here the best versions are more reverent, more stylistically in sync with the originals. She's never sounded so engaged with the world. James Brown's ballad “Lost Someone” shows the incredible facility with soul she developed working with the Memphis Rhythm Band on 2006's The Greatest, while the Highwaymen's “Silver Stallion” demonstrates her equal facility with country wanderlust. But the showstopper is “Aretha, Sing One for Me,” a 1972 hit by Memphis songwriter George Jackson. A bookend to “Song to Bobby,” it too evokes pop music's unfulfilled promise to solve our problems. Marshall is a hell of a singer, but she's paying tribute to the slavish audience in us all.