Ten years ago, Oak Cliff resident Stuart Sikes had a hand in Cat Power's breakout album, though technically, his engineering work on What Would the Community Think was relatively hands-off. He did the most with the least, ensuring that spare arrangements, low, rumbling guitar lines and strokes of feedback anchored Chan Marshall's unmistakable voice without overpowering it. Albums since Community stripped away even more instrumentation, though, making Marshall's vulnerability so obvious that it soon became the focus of every damn review she got. This time, Marshall has again enlisted Sikes' help to remind listeners that her voice doesn't deserve near-silence--it deserves a full, superpowered band to propel it.
Much has been said already about the legendary Memphis hands, including soul legends the Hodges Brothers, who fill The Greatest with country and soul sounds unlike any Cat Power record before it, but the gorgeous thing about this album is what Marshall does with the newfound anchor these players give her. Take "Lived in Bars"--the singer who cried like a desperate, near-naked refugee in Moon Pix now sounds like a sultry lounge singer sitting atop a piano in a slinky red dress. Even as she recounts a story of a long, tired life, her confident delivery gives this song youthful--even sexy--appeal. Chan's done being the solitary voice in the still of the night; here, she understands her voice's place as a member of this lush band, settling on understated delivery throughout, and it's this subtle sensibility that even Sikes' able hands couldn't tweak with a knob.
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