CAT POWER You Are Free (Matador)

Cat Power is the nom de tune of American singer/songwriter Chan Marshall, a pseudonym designed to give right-thinking librarians sleepless nights over exactly where her work should be filed. “You Are Free” presents eggshell-fragile songs that burn with a fierce inner strength. Sparse, spooked and addictive, it’s hard to avoid seeing her as an Americana-burnished equivalent of Kathryn Williams or P J Harvey – not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

These direct, parched vignettes make Raymond Carver read like the lyric sheet of “Tales From Topographic Oceans” in comparison, exploring the politics of human interaction bleached to their barest bones. “I Don’t Blame You” looks down the reversed telescope of fan worship a la Wilco’s “The Lonely 1”, and the edginess of “Free” suggests a mildly tutored Slits. A cover of Michael Hurley’s “Werewolf” is desolate mountain folk, and “Keep On Runnin’” began life, unbelievably, as the spidery outline of a John Lee Hooker song.

“You Are Free” peaks on its melodically uncomplicated piano anti-ballads “Names”, which parades x-rayed case histories of America’s failed children, and the societal collapse of “Evolution”. The latter is one of several songs to feature vocals from mysterious Sony Music recording artist E.V. The internet appears to support my suspicion that the masked musician in question is Eddie Vedder, and also my theory that the D.G. on bass and drum duty is in fact Dave Grohl, here surely making the most restrained music of his recording career. If “You Are Free” sags a little in the middle – it doesn’t need to be 14 tracks heavy – when it takes flight it’s as untouchable as its title suggests.