Chan Marshall, who records under the alias Cat Power, boasts more musical prowess than many singer-songwriters would even know what to do with. In fact, after nine gleaming LPs, she almost stopped doing anything with it—she told The New York Times that after getting pregnant in 2014, she thought about abandoning her music career to move to Australia and change her name to Beth. Instead of fulfilling those outback fantasies, Marshall went back to work. The result is her 10th LP, Wanderer, a marvelously minimalist, generously arranged and smartly written glance into one woman’s mind.
Raw and trusting, Cat Power opens up on Wanderer in ways only a practiced and weathered musician could. The album’s opening and title track is barely a minute long, but it sounds like a confessional lullaby, if such a tune has ever existed. “With heart, wild heart, you would sing to me,” she croons over a chorus of heavenly oohs that could rock you to sleep if you weren’t so entranced. Then, she exposes herself: “Twist of fate would have me sing at your wedding / With a baby on my mind and your soul in between.” There’s not even one discernable rhyme in “Wanderer,” but it’s still poetic in nature, as if it were a folktale told around a crackling campfire.
On the following songs, “In Your Face” and “You Get,” a strong-willed Marshall grooms a jazzy mood with a gentle rhythm section à la her peers Fiona Apple and Norah Jones. The suspenseful and sultry “In Your Face” folds into the slightly groovy “You Get” before she joins former tourmate Lana Del Rey on the album’s centerpiece, “Woman,” an echoey pattern of strums and keys that gradually melt into an Americana stomp. Despite what its name would imply, ”Woman” necessarily isn’t about femininity; it isn’t about women as a group. It’s about one woman. That’s not to say that women won’t feel empowered when they listen to it, because it does possess the ability to move, but it’s Marshall’s story: “I’m a woman of my word, now you have heard / My word’s the only thing I truly need,” the two sing, Del Rey’s husky tenor melting like caramel into Marshall’s chocolate alto.
“Horizon” is nestled at Wanderer’s burning core, a warmly composed, barely tweaked familial love song. Here, Marshall lovingly bakes in some AutoTune, an unexpected but welcome treat. She stuns on her foreboding cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” a barebones piano version of the hip-hop queen’s soaring ballad. Marshall’s rendition is equally soaring, however, a stirring but subdued way to expose the song’s longing lyrics.
Marshall allows Wanderer to be about lots of things at once: such life-altering instances as motherhood and death as well as plentifully covered topics like love and relationships. Cat Power has stumbled at times during her lengthy and storied career, but on Wanderer, she gracefully lands on all four feet.