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Cat Power "Jukebox" (Matador) ***
SINGER-songwriter Chan Marshall's latest effort stays in the languid Memphis-soul bag of her acclaimed 2006 album "The Greatest," which paid homage to soul legend Al Green and the '70s sound of Hi Records. But on "Jukebox" (due Tuesday), she mostly interprets other people's songs, harking back to 2000's "The Covers Record," which featured her versions of tunes by artists such as the Stones and Smog. Like that release, this one has a Dylan song and a reworking of one of her own tracks, "Metal Heart" (from 1998's "Moon Pix").
Marshall may not obliterate Billie Holiday with her rendition of "Don't Explain," at once accusatory and forgiving, or surpass Joni Mitchell with her icy torch-song take on "Blue," but she makes each selection hers, singing in a voice alternately smoky and chilled, rich and wispy. The pace stays slow to midtempo and might feel enervating to some, but the mood is by turns yearning, world-weary and hopeful. Subtle touches of jazz, blues, rock and country add to the dreamy, soulful elegance and make "Jukebox" feel like a private love letter to treasured tunes.
The lone new original, "Song to Bobby," is a spare homage to Bob Dylan that rolls sweetly out of Marshall's slow-grooving, blues-rock take on Dylan's "I Believe in You." The gospel petition "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy" is an ancient plea with a profoundly modern resonance, while "Lost Someone" begs mercy for one particular wandering soul. Both fade into the ether as though the prayer goes on all night.