The badass pedestal may be one of the most lionized positions in the indie-rock scene, but sometimes a sobering fall from grace can reinvent a musician in the best of ways. Even though Cat Power’s (Chan Marshall) first life was stunning and intriguing with its minimalist instrumentation and experimental excursions, it merely billows in the prevailing winds of what she has done since her most recent album The Greatest.

Scott Bell
The healing powers of soul. (COURTESY OF MATADOR)

Winner of the 2006 Shortlist Music Prize, The Greatest underwent two album releases. Just two weeks before its initial release in January 2006, Marshall’s badass veneer began to deteriorate and the 34-year-old southern belle found herself at Mount Sinai Medical Center for alcohol abuse and psychiatric treatment. Notorious for her unpredictable and drunken behavior on stage, Marshall had unfortunately reached a very dismal place. “I was looking at death, I wanted to die,” she said in a 2006 interview with The New York Times.

However, though Marshall’s medical issues postponed her tour for The Greatest and instigated a re-release of the album, the success and recognition she has received for both the album itself and her reinvented approach to performing (gone are the days of mooning the audience and shouting obscenities at the techies) weren’t hampered by the delay.

The new Cat Power still balances her ostensible melancholy upon smoked vocals and sparse chords. On The Greatest, though, with the addition of veteran soul musicians Mabon “Teeny” Hodges, his brother Leroy Hodges and Steve Potts, Cat Power’s music is laced with a bit of gingham twang and spiced with a subdued shuffle. But even with a heady fix of Memphis soul backing her up, Marshall retains that element of heartbroken, forlorn despondence that made her such a hit in the black-lined eyes of the indie-rock crowd.

Although this album and Marshall’s subsequent breakdown didn’t initiate her rebirth as a soul musician, it, and her touring with the Memphis Rhythm Band and now the Dirty Delta Blues, have undone the hems of her self-imposed and off-putting public persona. The entertainment factor of a fucked-up rock star can only go so far, and concert reviews from the past year have taken note of Marshall’s transformation on stage.

This Friday there may still be a few awkward moments of overt casualness, but the chances of Marshall abandoning the Majestic Theater mid-song are significantly lower than what they were a few years ago. And instead of breaking off into a tangent of rage after a mistake, the chances that Marshall will just smile, apologize and move on are thankfully quite high.

Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues

July 13
8:00 p.m.


At The Majestic Theater, Detroit

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