You Are Free

Singer songwriter Chan Marshall is a free-spirited woman with almost childlike mannerisms, as I found out when I interviewed her years ago and she went on forever, wistfully describing an old sweater she had lost in Chico. Fans love her charming, sensual voice—a dry Southern rasp-o-beauty—and intuitive skills that she uses to embody haunting, often minimally backed songs of melancholy and longing. This album features more hopeful moments—and it’s also probably the best of her career.

Featuring guest appearances from drummer Dave Grohl and vocalist Eddie Vedder (mercifully abandoning grunge moans for low baritone on the beautiful piano duet finale, “Evolution"), Marshall succeeds in mixing the elements throughout: solo piano ballads, acoustic tunes, upbeat rockers (the catchy synth bounce of “Free” and anthemic rocker “He War") that keep the album from growing repetitive like her former, molasses-paced effort.

Two offbeat covers are included: a spooky version of art-folkie Michael Hurley’s classic “Werewolf” with a shivering string arrangement from David Campbell, and “Crawlin’ Black Spider” by John Lee Hooker—reappropriated in the dirgelike “Keep on Runnin'.”

Only Chan could make lyrics like these—from her ode to lost childhood friends, "Names"—sound pretty: "his name was Charles/ he said he was in love with me/ we were both 14/ then I had to move away/ then he began to smoke crack/ then he had to sell ass/ I don’t know where he is."