In 2003 Cat Power released her album You Are Free, a collection of songs on which she accompanies herself on guitar and piano, aided by some admirers/guests.
On January 21, 1972, Charlyn Marie Marshall is born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. In the sixth grade she chose her own nickname Chan, which she would also use in her later career. She left home and school at 16, and formed a band in the late 1980s, which she named Cat Power.
In 1992 she moved to New York and was introduced to free jazz and experimental music. She recorded her first solo albums in 1994, leading to the release of the albums Dear Sir in October 1995 and Myra Lee in March 1996. Chan Marshall used the artist name Cat Power for her albums.
In 1996 Marshall signed a deal with Matador Records. In September of that year Cat Power released her third album, What Would The Community Think. Two years later it was followed by Moon Pix, which contained 6 songs written “in one deranged night”, following a hallucinatory nightmare she had in the fall of 1997. The album was hailed by the critics and sold a decent amount of units.
In 2000 Cat Power released her first album filled entirely with covers, titled The Covers Record. Some may interpret it as a lack of inspiration, but nothing could be further from the truth. Whenever Cat Power records a cover, the song is deconstructed completely, only to be built up again following Cat Power’s unique methods. Oftentimes, the results are mind blowing.
At the start of the new millennium Cat Power was embraced by the fashion industry and served as a muse to designers like Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière. She became a popular model.
At times, her live performances were derailed by her undependable and downright unfriendly behavior. Her temperament was a challenge to her record company and her audience, which contrasted heavily with her beautiful refined music, music that was obviously composed and performed by a huge talent.
In 2002 she started recording songs for a new album, some 40 songs were put to tape. The time spent on the album was a novelty, as she usually wrote and recorded songs very quickly.
You Are Free
On February 18, 2003, You Are Free was released on Matador Records. Her first new music in five years. The album was instantly praised by the press and it was the first time a Cat Power album entered the Billboard 200 chart. There was a real audience for her out there.
Because Cat Power garnered good reviews and was loved amongst fellow musicians, many colleagues jumped at the chance to work with her, amongst them Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Warren Ellis (Dirty Three, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds). Grohl on Cat Power: “She’s a girl with the most delicate, seductive, bluesy gospel voice and she sings these fucking heart-wrenching songs, so amazing”. He was/is right.
The majority of the songs are played by Cat Power, accompanying herself on guitar or piano, often harmonizing with her own vocals.
Was it the time that Cat Power had allowed herself for this album? Or was it just the sheer talent that blossomed in full? You Are Free possesses an overwhelming beauty. The central themes seem to be loss and strength. A lot of songs deal with lost loves, lost lives, acquired wounds and the way to cope with these issues.
The opener I Don’t Blame You is a prime example. The lyrics are great and soon give away who they are written about/for.
Last time I saw you, you were on stage
Your hair was wild, your eyes were red
And you were in a rage
You were swinging your guitar around
‘Cause they wanted to hear that sound
But you didn’t want to play
And I don’t blame you, I don’t blame you
Soon the theory was that the song was about Kurt Cobain, something Cat Power confirmed much later. It’s a moving song about the death of a musician trapped in his own success, the audience’s expectations and his own (artistic) standards and values.
The second song, Free, utilizes a drum computer and background vocals by Cat Power herself. Her voice blending with her own voice is magical. And the album just keeps on giving: Good Woman, Speak For Me, Fool, Shaking Paper, it’s all stunningly beautiful. And even then it’s not over. Maybe Not gets the tears flowing. Minimal music combined with that great (double) voice and melody.
Names is a shocking tale about child- and drug abuse. The phrases “He was ten years old”, with “ten” going up to “fourteen”, are particularly heart breaking. Deeply tragic stories delivered in a deadpan manner, but still possessing a humanity and empathy that’s seldom heard.
Like Cat Power would later use Iggy Pop’s voice perfectly for her music on Sun, she does the same here on the closing Evolution, where Eddie Vedder doesn’t sound like Eddie Vedder. A beautiful end to a hypnotic, moving and artistic album. Highly recommended!
2 Singles were culled from the album.
(released in 2003, promo-only)
- He War
(released in 2003)
A video was shot for He War. Marshall liked the video, but didn’t enjoy the process of filming: “These videos are so weird, because they had me playing a person… So in my video, I am me. It’s the weirdest feeling. You are you in the song… As far as some sort of artwork, I don’t know if that makes sense. It has nothing to do with music. Being in a video, lyrically speaking, your persona has nothing to do with being in a video”.
All songs written by Chan Marshall, unless stated otherwise.
- I Don’t Blame You
- Good Woman
- Speak For Me
- Werewolf (Michael Hurley)
- He War
- Shaking Paper
- Maybe Not
- Half Of You
- Keep on Runnin’ (John Lee Hooker)
The Japanese released contained a bonus song: The Party.
- Chan Marshall – vocals, guitar, piano
- D.G. (Dave Grohl) – bass on Speak For Me, drums on Speak For Me, He War, Shaking Paper
- T.H. (Taylor Hawkins?) – drums on He War
- E.V. (Eddie Vedder) – vocals on Good Woman, Evolution
- Warren Ellis – violin on Good Woman
- Maggie & Emma – vocals on Good Woman
- David Campbell – string arrangement on Good Woman, Werewolf
After You Are Free
Following You Are Free‘s release Cat Power went on a long tour. Again, some shows were marred by her unpredictable behavior. Many reviews told the tale of Cat Power being in a different zone than the audience. Later, Cat Power blamed it on her alcohol problem.
In 2004 the DVD Speaking For Trees was released, a movie showing Cat Power singing songs, holding an acoustic guitar. On January 22, 2016, she released the album The Greatest, an album with original Southern soul material. The album was very successful, both with the press as with the general public.
Her modelling work continued as well, especially after Karl Lagerfeld stumbled upon her in New York. After recording songs with several artists and a movie debut, Cat Power returned in January 2008 with a second covers album, Jukebox. In December 2008 the EP Dark End Of The Street was released, consisting of outtakes of the Jukebox sessions.
On August 29, 2012, Sun was released, where Cat Power utilized electronica in her music. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart at number 10, the biggest success of her career yet.
Following her departure from Matador Records Cat Power released the album Wanderer on October 5, 2018. On January 14, 2022, her third covers album, simply titled Covers, was released.
What’s your take on Cat Power and You Are Free? Let me know, it’s highly appreciated.
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Cat Power – You Are Free. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Cat Power – Peel Sessions 02/12/2003 c: youtube.com
Cat Power – 1996/1997 image: lyriquediscorde.com
Cat Power – You Are Free image: spotify.com
Cat Power – You Are Free – Poster, Cat Power – You Are Free – Poster (unused) & Cat Power – Speaking For Trees – Poster images: markohe.com
Cat Power – You Are Free – Singles image: discogs.com
Cat Power – He War video still image: albumism.com
Cat Power – The model image: gaite-lyrique.net