Tuesday, October 28, 2008

WHINE, WOMEN & SONG

Some posts ago, I griped about Beyonce's current single, "If I Were A Boy," an attempt to put a new twist on the old-as-dirt battle of the sexes that turns out a cliched mess targeted at simpleton mentalities. I thought about the song the other morning as I was walking to my Pilates class and my iPod's random play selected "A Woman Left Lonely," a track from Jukebox, Cat Power's recent covers CD. Now I'm ashamed to admit that although I downloaded Jukebox the week of its release last January, I've never listened to it in its entirety. (I still stuck on Cat Power's flawless 2006 opus, The Greatest, one of my Top 10 favorite albums of the '00s. Stay tuned for that list--coming soon, before the end of 2009.) In fact, I didn't even realize that she'd covered the late, great Charlie Rich's country non-hit from 1971 on Jukebox. In reality, she probably had Janis Joplin's version in mind, but I'm more familiar with Rich's rendition.

As I listened, I found myself thinking about Beyonce's similarly themed single and then going off on a tangent, wishing that more contemporary singers would pay their respects to pop music's rich history and be less predictable when doing it. A perfect example: Celine Dion and her version of Heart's "Alone" from her 2007 CD, Taking Chances. Carrie Underwood had already unexpectedly and successfully gone there in front of millions of TV viewers during the fourth season of American Idol, so why play follow the leader? I'd pay good money to download Celine renditions of Linda Ronstadt's "Long Long Time" or Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man" or some other undercharted covers territory. In Beyonce's case, time will tell whether the soundtrack to the upcoming Etta James biopic, in which Beyonce portrays the R&B/blues legend, will mix relatively unsung Etta classics ("Losers, Weepers, Part I," "I'd Rather Go Blind") with the tried and truly done-to-death ("At Last," "Tell Mama").

But back to Cat Power and "A Woman Left Lonely." The song details the emotional burden of the fairer sex, emphasizing resignation over recrimination with a fairness that makes it interpretable by both male and female singers: "And the fevers of the night/The can burn an unloved woman/And oh, the red hot flames/Try to push old love aside/Oh, yes it does." Does Cat Power outdo the Silver Fox? I think she falls somewhat short, but it probably has more to do with the haunted early '70s piano-and-strings production values that elevate Rich's version than anything either did vocally. You be the judge.

LISTEN Cat Power: "A Woman Left Lonely"

LISTEN Charlie Rich: "A Woman Left Lonely"
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