Proud to do it differently

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2008, 12:00am


Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, is more likely to be recognised by Hong Kong people as playing Jude Law's ex-girlfriend in Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights. But the American singer-songwriter plays more than a cameo role in the music scene.

Marshall's parents were divorced, so she spent her childhood and adolescence travelling back and forth across the southern United States between them.

This constant travelling prepared her for the life of a touring musician. She started performing under the name of Cat Power after dropping out of high school.

She made a name for herself in the indie rock scene with the 1998 album Moon Pix, most of which she composed on a sleepless night soon after deciding to retire from performing.

Renowned for her minimalist style and fiercely independent spirit, Marshall's performances are notorious and celebrated. Spontaneous and creative on stage, Marshall's radical live performances are often as unpredictable as her drinking problems and onstage breakdowns - cutting short performances abruptly or switching songs halfway through without explanation.

But fans remain loyal to her. Marshall has arguably one of the finest voices in pop music. Her singing can be bold and languorous at the same time, conveying an atmospheric mood and melancholic sentiments in a bluesy and more interesting way than almost anyone else in the industry.

Hailed as the indie soul queen, Marshall's music is like coffee - once you're hooked, it's almost impossible to resist.

Her latest CD, Jukebox, released last month, is testimony to the artist's ability to breathe new life into old numbers.

A collection of covers of songs by artists ranging from James Brown, Hank Williams and Billie Holiday, to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, only two of the 13 numbers - Metal Heart and Song to Bobby (supposedly a tribute to Bob Dylan) - are new.

Marshall refuses to follow the original melodies, revamping the tunes, altering the arrangements or changing the moods of the songs. In doing so, she makes the songs her own, personalising classic pop numbers and traditional folk songs while enriching them with new emotions.

Jukebox may not be to everyone's liking, but it's no doubt a daring feat. Whether or not you like her, you can't deny Marshall is too good and too unpredictable to ignore.