Cat Power Is Devotee, Student and Messenger on 'Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert'

BY Nicholas SokicPublished Nov 7, 2023

Almost 60 years after his mythic performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, we're still talking about Robert Zimmerman. The infamous acoustic-turned-electric set, where he was decried as a Judas, became a fulcrum for his own career and what many saw at the time as the death knell of the folk movement.

Well, in 2023, we still have men strumming their acoustic guitars and we still have Bob Dylan. And now, we also have a recreation of the improperly labeled 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert from Cat Power. A master of reinterpretation whose catalogue already includes three covers albums – 2000's The Covers Record, 2008's Jukebox and 2022's Covers – Chan Marshall covered the same setlist at the same venue last November, even down to the switch from acoustic to electric at the halfway mark.

The worst outcome of a covers album is a cheapening of the original material. Is that once-profound lyric now corny or immaterial? Does hearing the same message from a different voice change its impact? Luckily, Marshall is an accomplished and canonized singer-songwriter in her own right, and these are Dylan songs we're talking about. 

Every single part of this setlist has already been covered by other artists over the previous five decades. But, as the cliché goes, never quite like this. The songs are still impactful for reasons that can't be quantified in record sales or fully encompassed in a Nobel Prize, but if you're one of those philistines that has never been able to tolerate Dylan's vocals, then there's an entire universe waiting for you in Marshall's take.

There's something to be said for the exact recreation of a live set down to the titular venue. For one, it means the live recording is crisp and clear – your headphones will distinguish every part of the wandering harmonica, the intakes of breath. Marshall's embodiment is largely faithful, even reverent, to Dylan's interpretations, except on the occasions that she injects a little subversion into the setlist. 

There's a repetition of the infamous Judas accusation just before "Ballad of a Thin Man," to which Marshall slyly invokes Jesus. Less concrete but more important to the album is the feminine transformation of songs like "Visions of Johanna" and "Just Like a Woman." In particular, the latter song shapeshifts into something perhaps even more tender and empathetic, given the point of view.

Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert does exactly what it says on the tin, but in the process adds another story to Dylan's tower of song, and showcases Marshall as devotee, student and messenger. 
(Domino Records )

Tour Dates

Latest Coverage