the cat comes back


It's not easy being Cat Power.

Thirty-year-old singer-songwriter Chan (pronounced 'Shawn') Marshall is a rather legendary nervous Nellie, one who can be both brilliant and shy to the breaking point in the course of a single concert. During interviews, she'll blab animatedly about her 'fourth-dimensional dreams,' the Green Party, Mary J. Blige and Bob Dylan. Or she'll totally clam up.

Over the course of an eight-year, six-album career, Marshall (aka Cat Power) has proved to be a decidedly singular artist. Her style is that of a petulant primitive, and her songs consist of simple, repetitive chord groupings that require little accompaniment. Her voice is a raw, unpolished instrument, sometimes a mushy murmur, others a freezing banshee wail. But as Neil Young once said about someone else, it's a voice that's 'as real as the day is long.'

Her latest record, 'You Are Free,' features state-of-the-art technical support from producer Adam Kaspar and instrumental and vocal backing from Foo Fighter Dave Grohl and Pearl Jammer Eddie Vedder. Kaspar's studio savvy provides a little muscle to Marshall's gossamer compositions, but it's still the same ol' gloomy Cat Power. Her mournful perspective skips from big-picture warnings about the shabby state of the world ('Maybe Not,' 'Evolution') to woeful breakups ('Good Woman,' 'Half of You') to dreadful memories she's trying to exorcise ('Names').

The archaic-sounding 'Good Woman' benefits from Warren Ellis' rusty violin scraping and some ghostly background vocals. 'Speak for Me' would be a reasonable guess as the album's single, an ample rocker punched up by Grohl's snap drumming. 'I Don't Blame You' could be a dirge about Kurt Cobain ('You were on stage/Your hair was wild/Your eyes were bright/And you were in a rage/É Swingin' your guitar around/Cuz they wanted to hear that sound/That you didn't wanna play'). Marshall's voice reduces each song to a chilling bare essential. Her main mission this time around is gently reminding us that we don't have to be oppressed and miserable; we can simply be É free.

Like Cobain, Marshall is a guileless performer, incapable of faking it or going through rock-star motions, which is why her concerts can often be so perplexing. If she's not in some kind of performing zone, nothing much is going to happen. And yet, with another strong album to her credit, she's also clearly an artist who rewards patience.

Cat Power plays 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 23, at the Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., 503-224-2038, $15; also available through TicketsWest (503-224-8499), subject to service charges.

Captain vs. Crew

Sometimes Up Is the Only Direction

(Jealous Butcher Records)

The panhandling punk rockers on Southwest Fifth Avenue would do well to gather up their loose change and plug into Portland's Captain vs. Crew, and give those crusty Misfits and Subhumans tapes a break. The guys and gal in CVC brandish plenty of teeth-gnashing wrath and frustration, but one gets the idea it doesn't follow them home or keep them awake at night. Best to leave stormy feelings at the office.

The band's debut record opens with 'Finest in Italian Metal Pt. 1,' an eruption of spring-loaded guitars and wig-flipping vocals that refreshingly call to mind one of Portland's punk patron saints, Greg Sage. Like Sage's band, the Wipers, CVC generally keeps everything urgent and cathartic, such as on the furious caterwauls 'Brutal Path of Destruction' and 'Under the Rock Rock.'

Yet the Crew isn't shy about introducing a few melodic tidbits. The expansive curves on songs such as 'Downtime' deliver needed diversion from all the mouth-foaming rage. 'Warn the Duke' sounds like a catchy Grant Hart song from HŸsker DŸ's productive years.

CVC is a band capable of maintaining a full head of scream while peppering the listener with a few timely asides, as if to say: 'Remember your blood pressure, kids. Find your happy place.' We can definitely use more examples of intelligent aggression.

Captain vs. Crew plays 9 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at Disjecta, 116 N.E. Russell St., 503-335-6979, $5.