New Music Monday 13/11/2023

By: Jacqueline Olechowski

Cat Power’s Reimagining of Bob Dylan’s Iconic 1966 Performance 

On November 5, 2022, Cat Power, otherwise known as Chan Marshall, recreated Bob Dylan’s infamous 1966 concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Dylan’s show marked a legendary, historic moment in live music: halfway through the set, he switched from folk to electric, enraging his devoted folk music fans. Before going electric in 1965, Dylan was part of the folk revival and helped repopulized folk ballads. Influenced by the beatnik movement and the folksinger Woody Guthrie, Dylan’s lyrics were motivated by political, social, and literary influences. Dylan is hailed as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time and even won a Nobel Prize in Literature. His controversial move to rock music marked a departure in his lyrics from social protest to “boy-girl romantic innuendo” (Britannica). Fans did not hesitate to show their disappointment; audiences booed and heckled Dylan. At one point during his 1966 performance, a fan yelled out “Judas!” to which Dylan responded, “you’re a liar!” When a fan yelled the same thing during the penultimate song of Cat Power’s show, she responded, “Jesus,” perhaps suggesting how she feels about Dylan – Bob Dylan is one of Marshall’s biggest influences, and she even calls him “God Dylan.” 

Marshall’s moody, sandy voice reminds me of Fiona Apple. Like Dylan, Marshall does not fully enunciate her words. She channels a bit of Dylan’s nasal-twang vocals while still maintaining her own authenticity; with three cover albums already in her discography, Marshall knows how to pay tribute to her inspirations without fully imitating them. For example, her rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” drops Dylan’s signature harmonica and has a significantly more melancholic tone. The same can be said for most of the album; Marshall’s versions are noticeably sadder (LA Weekly called her the “queen of sadcore,” but I won’t go that far). 

Is it blasphemous to say I like Cat Power’s version better? Her voice is certainly more melodic than Dylan’s. I’m still not quite used to his voice, which Britannica calls “a cowboy lament laced with Midwestern patois.” He’s almost sing-wailing, which, to be fair, fits his lyrics: in “Like A Rolling Stone,” he sings, “How does it feel? / To be on your own / With no direction home / Like a complete unknown / Like a rolling stone?” Despite which version you like better, both recordings showcase raw talent while celebrating a mixing of genres. Whether you like folk, rock and roll, blues, gospel, or “sadcore,” this album is for you. 

Notable songs: 

  • “Fourth Time Around” – this song is about Dylan’s relationship with Edie Segwick, who fans argue inspired most of Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. John Lennon was convinced that the last lines of this song (“I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine”) were a dig at him for copying Dylan’s style! 
  • “Just Like A Woman” – interesting to hear this from a female singer: “She takes like a woman, yes / She makes love like a woman, yeah she does / And she aches like a woman / But she breaks like a little girl” 
  • “Mr. Tambourine Man” – this song is included in The Norton Introduction to Literature! Also my favorite of the album. 
  • “Like A Rolling Stone” – One of Dylan’s biggest hits, this is considered one of the greatest songs ever recorded. 

Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Roayl Albert Hall Concert honors one of Marshall’s heroes while maintaining her own personal music style. Her performance brings a new spirit of admiration and warmth to a night originally met with stubborn resistance and backlash. Fans will always be mad when their favorite artist switches genres, but doing so often produces legendary icons of the music industry. 

Stay tuned for Cat Power’s performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday, November 13th.