Memphis Ninny



America's favorite depress-you-to-impress-you babe doing a Southern soul record? It all but guarantees that the best thing you'll hear from Chan Marshall this year is her vulnerable-voiced cover of "Hanging on the Telephone" for a Cingular commercial. The Greatest? More like The Disappointment. Recorded at Memphis' Ardent Studios and utilizing such Hi Records legends as guitarist Mabon Hodges (who co-wrote "Love and Happiness" with Al Green), this soul idea, complete with lush string and horn accompaniments, certainly reads well on paper.

The problem is Marshall is at her best at the bottom of the emotional barrel. With this, there's too much optimism to be believable coming from her frail register. The possibility of things turning out right doesn't become her; a Cat Power record is the last place one should find hope; we go there to wallow.

The songs all share similar arrangements and identical tones, and it feels like Marshall set out to write a Memphis soul record. And that's another problem. The immediate self-redacting involved in composing a set of songs around a specific sound is counterintuitive. Ideas that don't fit inside the preconceived format are immediately abandoned and the result is an unoriginal rehash of a storied genre. Ms. Marshall is no Al Green, and we can only hope she sticks to the subdued anger and melancholy that suits her best and grow from there. Maybe then the disappointment will end.

Ben Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times . Send comments to

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.