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Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2003



Chan Marshall

Singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, was raised in the U.S. South by an itinerant pianist and didn't finish school, so it's easy to imagine that much of her childhood and adolescence was spent in her own head. Her songs, while not particularly morbid, nevertheless revel in detailed emotional shadings and a clinging dark ambience.

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Marshall's sixth album, "You Are Free," which comes out later this month, is in some ways her lightest, even if the songs are mostly minor key and the arrangements very spare. The choppy number "Free," with its hippielike refrain, "Everybody get together," is sung with an ironic precision, as if to emphasize that no one is actually playing or singing along and, therefore, no one is getting together at all. In "He War," a propulsive postbreakup song, she mixes bromides: "I never meant to be the needle that broke your back." Using overdubbed vocal lines that seem to come from various directions, the song is scolding in tone and apologetic in mien.

Alternately lulling and prodding, Marshall's singing is devoid of vocalese but full of surprises. Pearl Jam producer Adam Kasper mixes her low among the martial drums and bass on "Shaking Paper." She sounds ready for bed until what passes for the bridge, when she's suddenly right there in your face.

But if the songs convey a playful spookiness, the singer often sounds as if content were beside the point. Dave Grohl, who participates semianonymously (the drummer is listed as D.G.; guess who backing singer E.V. is), once described Marshall's voice as "a lullaby," a term normally used to describe songs, not singers. What he meant was that the voice itself, its texture and substance, has a more raw effect on the listener than do the lyrics or the music. It's difficult to sing along with Cat Power's songs, but it's easy to get lost in them.

Cat Power: Jan. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m., Shimokitazawa La Cana, (03) 3410-0505. Tickets are 3,000 yen at the door (includes one drink).

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