Medium Rotation — Covers; The Boy Named If; Anaïs Mitchell

Although a sharp, evocative songwriter who regularly delivers new albums stuffed full of beautifully tarnished gems, Chan Marshall gets a lot of mileage out of repurposing other performers’ material. Titled with admirable clarity and directness, Covers is the third instance of Marshall (under the nom de plume of Cat Power, natch) rifling through her record collection to come up with ideas for how to use her studio time. The general tone is refined and casual, the relaxed comfort of someone very much at home gently riffing on music that’s familiar to her without feeling a whole lot of pressure to juice them up for the uninitiated. Sometimes the choices are downright gobsmacking in their perfection: Nico’s “These Days” and the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular” feel like they should have been in the Cat Power songbook from the jump. It’s even more exciting when Marshall strays from the expected, as when she brings Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion” under her total control, as if weaving wild magic. Cat Power also does the original authors proud on “White Mustang” (first laid down by her “Woman” duet partner, Lana Del Rey) “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

Decades deep and dozens of albums into his career as the quintessential performer of erudite rock songs, Elvis Costello has a secure legacy. He doesn’t need to, as the youngs say, go that hard. And yet The Boy Named If, his latest album with backing band the Impostors, argues that the bespectacled bard of barbed songsmithing has plenty of chips to keep flicking into the pop culture kitty. The album can be heard as a return to form or validation that his form has been just fine for years, your pick. Costello pushes his trademark keening vocals to the pinnacle of their evocative reverberation on “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?” and delivers the thumping “Magnificent Hurt” with an authority of a who can romanticize cynicism like no one else. There’s even some effective balladeering, sometimes Costello’s weak point, on “Paint the Red Rose Blue.” There’s an accompanying book of illustrated short stories for the most devoted collectors, but the album weaves memorable tales all on its own. Other attractions include “Farewell, OK,” “Penelope Halfpenny,” “My Most Beautiful Mistake” (with some appealing guest vocals by Nicole Atkins), and the Bow Wow Wow–esque “The Death of Magic Thinking.”

After delivering new full-length studio efforts at a steady clip through the first decade or so of her recording career, Anaïs Mitchell has gone eight years between albums. She wasn’t shirking in the interim and has a shiny Tony Award on her shelf to prove it. All through with the heavy lift of adapting her 2010 album, Hadestown, into a stage musical (and reaping the rewards when it became a smash), Mitchell turned her attention to a set of new original compositions, delivered with breezy charm on a new self-titled album. Anaïs Mitchell is tea at the perfect temperature, a kindly singer-songwriter effort that has a kinship with the output of Alela Diane, Victoria Williams, or any of the Wainwright offspring. She practically glimmers, whether with the intricate delicacy of “Real World” or the chin-thrust-forward troubadour tones of “Little Big Girl.” The cleanness of her craft is suggests a better world for commercial adult-oriented pop, as evidenced by “On Your Way (Felix Song),” which is what might have been pressed onto vinyl if Christine McVie decided in her heyday to emulate Rickie Lee Jones. Raise your cup to these other beauties: “Bright Star,” “Backroads,” and “The Words.”

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