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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Memphis Ninny

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

America's favorite depress-you-to-impress-you babe doing a Southern soul record? It all but guarantees that the best thing you'll hear from Chan Marshall this year is her vulnerable-voiced cover of "Hanging on the Telephone" for a Cingular commercial. The Greatest? More like The Disappointment. Recorded at Memphis' Ardent Studios and utilizing such Hi Records legends as guitarist Mabon Hodges (who co-wrote "Love and Happiness" with Al Green), this soul idea, complete with lush string and horn accompaniments, certainly reads well on paper.

The problem is Marshall is at her best at the bottom of the emotional barrel. With this, there's too much optimism to be believable coming from her frail register. The possibility of things turning out right doesn't become her; a Cat Power record is the last place one should find hope; we go there to wallow.

The songs all share similar arrangements and identical tones, and it feels like Marshall set out to write a Memphis soul record. And that's another problem. The immediate self-redacting involved in composing a set of songs around a specific sound is counterintuitive. Ideas that don't fit inside the preconceived format are immediately abandoned and the result is an unoriginal rehash of a storied genre. Ms. Marshall is no Al Green, and we can only hope she sticks to the subdued anger and melancholy that suits her best and grow from there. Maybe then the disappointment will end.

Ben Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times . Send comments to


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