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Record Review - 1 February 12 2003

Listening to her music, it's easy to forget that Cat Power's Chan Marshall has Atlanta roots. Marshall grew up here and occasionally moves back, but there's no prominent drawl, no insouciance, not much in her music that could be called rootsy. There are, of course, shades of the sort of stifling, at times grotesque, world found in the work of Flannery O'Connor or Carson McCullers.

But more than Southern gothic, Cat Power makes the type of East Village apartment music that began with the poetry of Patti Smith — too broke to afford a TV, too proud to work for the folks, too hung-over or paralyzed to go out. Marshall's songs are visceral and spare; she communicates through lyrics that teeter between calculated poetry and stream of consciousness. Misery loves company — and you're here to share in Chan's pain.

On You Are Free, her first album of new material in four years, Marshall shocks her music with newfound variety and tempo change. She segues a self-forgiving piano ballad ("I Don't Blame You") into a punk call-and-response ("Free"). She drives a violin-backed promise ("Good Woman") — harmonized with Eddie Vedder, among others — into a post-grunge PJ Harvey head-shaker ("Speak For Me"). She blocks two austere folk songs ("Werewolf" and "Fool") against two Dave Grohl-propelled rock-outs ("He War" and "Shaking Paper").

About 10 tracks into the 14-song CD, the bottom recedes into the sadcore that's signature Cat Power. It's Marshall, her piano or guitar, and you. Catharsis is imminent.