Cat Power

Dear Sir, released in 1995, marked singer-songwriter Chan Marshall as one Power-ful Cat -- but as the years wore on, she proved to be a relatively sedentary one, as well. On disc after disc after disc, her spare arrangements and tenderly purred vocals came to both define and entrap her.

Fortunately, The Greatest provides Marshall with a way out. Throughout the CD, she's accompanied by Memphis sidemen such as Teenie and Flick Hodges, who played on many of Al Green's '70s classics. Their soulful grooves add instrumental color to "Living Proof" and other compositions that she probably would have handled monochromatically on previous platters. As a result, "Hate," a tune rendered with trademark simplicity, stands out instead of bleeding into everything else.

Yes, Marshall's lyrics are as confessional and compelling as ever, but her performances have a looser-than-normal feel; on "Empty Shell," a country-style weeper, she almost seems to be having fun. Her willingness to change turns The Greatest into a creative rebirth -- and it didn't even cost one of her lives.


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