Talent at her fingertips

With The Greatest (Matador Records), Chan Marshall has undoubtedly released the best and most fully realized LP of her career.

Recorded in Memphis and backed on most of the album’s 13 tracks by former members of the Al Green band and Booker T. and the MG’s, Marshall’s voice both soars and dives deep on The Greatest. And while previous efforts, like 1998’s Moon Pix, have shown that Marshall has a world’s worth of musical talent at her fingertips, it is on The Greatest that she truly rises to the occasion.

On “Love and Communication,” the LP’s most powerful track, Marshall defiantly sings, “Learning more and more about less and less,” and then drives the point home with, “on the edge of your seat in some dark movie – can you memorize the scenes? They’ll be different next week.”

The Greatest tackles issues attached to beauty, love, defeat and pride and does so with an openness and artistry that is simply beautiful. And by choosing to record with some of the most talented musicians in the industry, (who ironically have for the most part been left behind by the mainstream), Marshall is able to produce an LP that at times sounds as instantly familiar as the best work from artists as legendary as Aretha Franklin or the Reverend Green himself.

Perhaps the nicest thing about The Greatest is the production. While the temptation must have obviously surfaced to make a “soul record,” Marshall and her team at Ardent Studios (where everyone from Bob Dylan to the Afghan Whigs have made some of the finest LPs of their careers) toed the line and came away with just enough soul so that the album never sounds retro.

The Greatest is simply the smoothest and deepest LP to come out of the rock world in years. The songs have a kick and a stride to them that have been missing from music since just about the time that the compact disc took over vinyl as the dominant recording format. It’s a wonder and a delight to hear Marshall’s voice melt on top of tight drums, well-placed horns, doo-wop style backing vocals and strings. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.