Covers is a captivating collection of unique and personal interpretations of some really fantastic songs. On her third album of covers, Chan Marshall, known by her stage name, Cat Power, once again covers artists with drastically different sounds, and yet creates a fully cohesive piece of work. From Frank Ocean to Bob Seger to The Pogues to Billie Holiday, there’s something for everyone…and yet, if you weren’t deeply familiar with any of these songs in their original version, you may have thought this was an album of originals.
Even as a devoted fan of Frank Ocean’s debut album Channel Orange, it took a third listen before realizing that the opening track to this album is a cover of its 14th track “Bad Religion.” Power not only switches up the melody and arrangement, but with small lyrical shifts she makes the lyrics more relevant to her person and her voice. Where Ocean sings, “And you say ‘Allahu akbar’ I told him, ‘don’t curse me,’ ‘Bo Bo, you need prayer,’” Power sings, “and he said, ‘Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, woman. Woman, you need prayer’”. These shifts transform this song so drastically, it sounds like an original Cat Power piece.
Then on the next track, Power changes the name of her own song “Hate,” to “Unhate”. She takes a very simple, stripped down, somewhat devastating song about hating yourself, and transforms it into an energetic song about growth and acceptance, changing the lyrics from present tense to past, “I hate myself and I want to die,” to “I hated myself and wanted to die”. This cover of her own song shows a level of growth and maturity that is exhilarating and inspiring. “We all have bad days,” Power says of her 2006 song, “we all have shit, trauma, something. There are times when you feel like that. But I needed to make it right.”
Later, Power boldly covers a classic, “These Days,” written by Jackson Browne but popularized by the sweet, aching voice of Nico. More recognizable than some of the other covers, Cat Power uses the same guitar lick behind her cover as in Nico’s version, but her slight country drawl along with her famous vocal layering make this song all her own. Part of me thought I didn’t need a cover of this impeccable song, but it turns out I did…
Power finishes off the album with a beautiful cover of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” by Billie Holiday. A reimagining of this song has particular resonance during this time of intense loss. Inspired by the passing of a close friend and her grandmother’s love of this song, she describes it as a song that has “caressed us” all for so long, and this cover caresses us once again.
Every track on this album is easily identifiable as Cat Power. She does a phenomenal job of making each and every song entirely her own, while honouring the original musicians and their original visions. This collection has clearly been carefully curated, featuring so many phenomenal songs in their own right. Covers manages to feel as powerful and as relevant to Cat Power’s discography as if she’d released an album of originals.