Armed with Al Green alums, the brothers Hodges (Mabon "Teenie" on guitar and Leroy "Flick" on bass) and a smattering of other '70s Memphis soul all-stars, Marshall succeeds on nearly all fronts. Over 12 tracks, she manages to capture the emotional tug and musical sounds of the old soul legends.
On the title track, Marshall's voice moans, "Once I wanted to be the greatest / No wind or waterfall could stall me / And then came the rush of the flood / Stars of the night turned deep to dust," over hushed violin, piano and slide guitar strokes. Cat Power's finest moment, "Lived in Bars," highlights her smoky vocals as she pulls the ballad through a cabaret soundtrack--complete with hazy horns and reverberated guitars--into its closing mid-tempo, doo-wop groove.
While Marshall is revered for her somber ballads, many of the best moments on The Greatest are upbeat tunes. "Islands" is a short, tropical treat, while "Living Proof" is a bouncy gospel number that rips into its conclusive fadeout. The album's few missteps are sidesteps into other genres, like the showtune "Where Is My Love." Impressively, Marshall has transformed another (Southern) genre into something uniquely her own.