Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
A couple of months ago I found myself in the back of an Escalade with Taylor Swift. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that we wound up talking about the connection between hip hop and country music. Don’t let those big blue eyes and demure blonde ringlets fool you, the girl has a thing for dirty backbeats and lyrical swagger. We concluded that the overlap between Big Boi and Tim McGraw is directness. What Swift is into in music — and I feel the same way — is emotional clarity. Rather than hiding behind the scrim of irony or faux disinterest, we’re into artists who tell it like it is. I haven’t asked Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) about this theory, but after seeing her show earlier this week at Terminal 5 I suspect she agrees.
Marshall has always talked about her love of Mary J Blige, Nina Simone, and Dusty Springfield — singers who don’t hide much. Not to mention, of course, the deep, dark southern blues Marshall was raised on. She collaborated with Teenie Hodges, Al Green’s legendary guitarist and many of his other players, to create the warm magic of her last album of original material, 2006’s The Greatest. We haven’t heard much from Marshall since the late 2000s. She’s been off not touring the world for a while, which is a good idea for any artist, but especially for one as fragile as Chan. But with last year’s urgent, delicate, and dare I say optimistic Sun Cat Power is officially back. She’s gone blonde. And she’s as mercurial and mesmerizing as ever. I wrote a book a few years ago about Cat Power, which you’d think would have brought some satisfaction to my fascination with her, but I still find her as beguiling as ever. She’s a Russian doll kind of artist. The more you listen, the more you learn about her life, the less you feel you really know what she’s about and the more committed you are to sticking around long enough to find out. Which, I guess, is a pretty good model for building the kind of career longevity Cat Power now seems to have.
Part of the reason I think Taylor and Chan would agree about the aesthetic intersection between hip hop and country is Cat Power often invites young, up-and-coming female MCs to open up for her even though that kind of makes no aesthetic sense. “Cat Power and Angel Haze doesn’t seem like an obvious mix,” said none other than Angel Haze, the young, up-and-coming female rapper Marshall tapped to open for her this week. “But I was really humbled to play with her. And she’s really nice. She sent me a huge bouquet of flowers.” The rapper has a coltish, almost masculine sexiness and a tendency to make the kind of as-of-yet-unjustified boasts you want from a young gun. Plus she’s already been in a Twitter war with Azealia Banks, so she must be on the rise. Also: her songs are awesome. (Check out “New York.”) “I’m not really a flowers girl but flowers from Cat Power is cool,” she mused.
Haze has apparently been on Marshall’s radar for a while. Back in September she was asked to record a verse over “Manhattan” off Sun, which has, as the rapper rightly puts it “a serene-type vibe.” Cat Power’s album doesn’t feature the verse but just the other day out came a Ryan Hemsworth remix of the track featuring Haze’s unmistakable rapid-fire vocals. “I’m really happy with it,” she says of the track, even though in general Haze says she’s anti-collaboration. “That sounds really bitchy,” she says, laughing. “But it’s about wanting to hone my craft first before I loan myself out to other people.” This girl is direct. And that’s what we like around here.