Life and Limb: Chan Marshall is keeping her demons at arm?s length.

During her highly celebrated and much-­analyzed erratic performances, you couldn’t help but wish for Chan Marshall to stop fussing over the monitors and the stage lights and just sing. Her voice could light up a dark cave (or at least a claustrophobic, fuzzy dirge), slaying any song, any melody. Even famously overplayed ones: On 2000’s The Covers Record, she turned “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into a stone-cold lament that made Mick Jagger seem silly. Six years later, Marshall blamed her own onstage silliness on the bottle and checked into detox. Later, she recorded a video confessional for the New York Times about her first days sobering up in a hospital bed. It was humble, funny, and more real than any of Courtney Love’s weepy court appearances: She spoke of how she pleaded with God to take her but instead found a remote and watched Mary J. Blige getting righteous on Oprah. Marshall’s recovery story was as natural and weird as her songs, and she’s funneled her Blige obsession into Jukebox, a second installment of covers. This time, the songs have a neo-soul zeal that favors big production over intimacy, with Marshall purring I-love-yous and bending “misery” into “mis-ah-ree” over waves of blues picking and sleepy organ. The conceit initially feels like a retread, especially after 2006’s The Greatest, the dull foray into old-school soul she recorded shortly before getting sober. Despite stunt-casting her songs with Memphis session legends, that album only mattered if you were Peter Guralnick or Greil Marcus: A nifty backstory couldn’t erase the way the album evoked Vonda Shepard, no matter how hard Marshall reached for Dusty Springfield’s high coo. Jukebox—recorded with a backing band of ex-Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Delta 72 vets lamely dubbing themselves Dirty Delta Blues—could’ve been a mere promotional ploy, good for an iPod commercial or a House of Blues New Year’s Eve gimmick. But as a loving salute to the idea of back catalog as salvation (her one original contribution is a Dylan tribute, “Song to Bobby”), the album is more convincing than Amy Winehouse’s career. As on The Covers Album, the melodies are familiar, but they’re less important than Marshall, who uses her voice to forcefully freestyle her own path. She’s capable of either bullying a song into submission or draping her flow over a melody like a dress two sizes too big. She makes a valiant attempt to measure up to James Brown’s “Lost Someone” and George Jackson’s rambling plea to Aretha Franklin, “Aretha, Sing One for Me.” But that’s the easy stuff. The trickier material is what justifies Jukebox. Marshall gives “New York, New York” back its sense of desperation; you’ll never hear her version close out a karaoke bar. She takes a banal Dylan song from his born-again period, “I Believe in You,” and twists it into a believable confession. And she turns the Highwaymen’s silly “Silver Stallion” into a hushed ballad of determination. “We gonna ride/Ride like the one-eyed jack of diamonds/With the devil close behind” has no business being anything but a laugh line, but Marshall sells the song’s phony outlaw tale as an earnest narrative. If she can make that shit work, she sure as hell can beat the bottle.

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