This could have been Chan Marshall's final album. It nearly was. Ground in by her own heel, after years of personal turmoil, she was ready to disappear into the abyss. The album was cut and only two weeks from release. Something snapped, and she retreated to her apartment, where, as she later related in interviews, she turned off her phone, stopped eating and sleeping, and tried to drink it all away. A friend from New York who feared she was in trouble flew down to Miami and found Marshall crazed and unwashed. The friend took her to a treatment center. Marshall has since rebounded to become more comfortable with herself and with the stage. She's not necessarily at home --- she might never reach that state --- but she says she's doing better. If we examine The Greatest in the frame of a would-be suicide note, there is the glaring, Cobain-esque plea "I hate myself and want to die" ("Hate") and the title track, in which she's preparing herself to be buried (metaphorically or otherwise). Yet the album ends on a charged note, with her connecting with a loved one. Although sorrow is the defining emotion in Cat Power's music, The Greatest is the warmest and lushest of her catalog, the result of her backing band at the time, who included Al Green collaborators Leroy Hodges and Mabon "Teenie" Hodges. Together, they made an album that courses with life even as it brushes by death.
Sunday, February 6, 2011