Both Jenny Lewis and Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power are duking it out today as their releases hit the store shelves. Lewis strikes first with Rabbit Fur Coat and has a decided edge both because of her local connections — the CD is being released on Conor Oberst’s Team Love Records — and in the press, easily outscoring Cat Power in the imaginary Google power ratings. There’s a shit-ton of stories online about Lewis, about half of them still getting it wrong that she’s from Omaha.
Marshall, on the other hand, has been around a lot longer than Lewis, she’s sort of a legacy artist who released music on Matador back when Matador was “the label” to be on. These days, Matador is just another indie powered by those legacy artists, including Yo La Tengo, Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) and Belle and Sebastian (There are a few significant new adds to their roster, not the least of which is The New Pornographers, Mogwai and Interpol, but they’re getting fewer and further between).
At the end of the day, it comes down to the music, of course. Rabbit Fur Coat, recorded with The Watson Twins, is easily the best thing Lewis has produced since The Execution of All Things back in ’02. The focus has been on the CD’s more-rural tracks, like the twangy “The Big Guns” and the intro “Run Devil Run” that seem to channel June Carter Cash. Fact is, once you get past those two tracks, the CD turns into an Azure Ray-style indie outing with plenty of uptempo numbers and the distinctive Mogis touch (on the numbers he helped produce).
That said, however, Rabbit Fur Coat doesn’t stand a chance against The Greatest, the new one by Cat Power. This is the first album that Chan has produced that I’ve enjoyed from beginning to end. She’s sanded down the rough edges, added the necessary accompaniment and written the most heartfelt and tuneful songs of her career. Sure, she’s sounding even more like Mazzy Star with her sleepy, slurred vocals and warm mid-tempo dream-melodies, but she’s also reminding me more and more of Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones, especially when she jazzes it up with horns (like on the centerpiece, “Willie”). Maybe she’s just getting older, and wiser, and better.
Both CDs are worth the price of admission, but Chan wins this one in a knock out. Now if we could only get these two in a real ring…
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