Chan Marshall is not the new Dylan, or even the old Dylan. But when she takes on Bobby Zimmerman on Jukebox, a sequel to 2000’s The Covers Record, her approach is Dylanesque: She refashions material from other artists and makes it seem like it’s been hers all along. Stripping “I Believe in You” (a song about faith, from Slow Train Coming) down to a single electric guitar and a shuffle, Marshall belts out a newly confident swagger as if she’s breaking in a new pair of fancy red shoes. A year after Marshall suffered a breakdown at a Miami hospital and went on to play the best shows of her career, she deserves a survival anthem like this one: “I walk out on my own/A thousand miles from home/But I don’t feel alone/’Cause I believe in you.” That “you” she’s addressing? Maybe it’s herself.
One of the reasons Marshall is able to make other artists’ songs disappear so completely into herself is that she’s singing about people who tend to disappear themselves: drifters, ramblers, faces in crowds. As members of the Dirty Three and the Blues Explosion give an open, spooky, gothic touch to Southern soul and rock moves, Marshall turns Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man” from a morning-after apology into a slinky lounge-singer tribute to life on the road. With a haunting slide guitar, she sings about riding off into nowhere on the Highwaymen’s “Silver Stallion,” and she lulls Sinatra’s “New York, New York” into a sweetly languorous ballad, lingering over the words “vagabond shoes” more than the climb to the “top of the heap.”
Jukebox sounds like Marshall’s version of I’m Not There — a testament to the idea that “I is another” — and nothing drives that message home more than her reconstruction of her own song, 1998’s “Metal Heart.” No longer a whispered folk hymn, it’s now a dramatic, crashing-drums-and-piano love letter to the old, fragile Marshall who wrote it. “You will be changed,” she sings. And she is.