Thanks to uncommonly emotional lyrics and a gorgeous, wounded-sounding voice, Chan Marshall, who performs under the name Cat Power, has ascended to indie rock stardom. But while the sadness in her songs was for many years all too real, a newly sober Marshall has found strength in her music. "Thank God I could play a guitar or sing a song—I could help myself," she says. Her 2008 album, Jukebox (Matador), finds her covering old favorites, including "Ramblin' Man" (which Marshall has refashioned as "Rambling Woman"), "New York, New York," and Jesse Mae Hemphill's "Lord, Help the Poor and Needy." "I wanted to do something that made me really happy when I was singing," she says. Other sounds that make Marshall happy: her French bulldog's snore, Mary J. Blige's soul music, and the handful of albums she listens to whenever she's at home in Miami.
Boubacar Traoré, Kar Kar (Sterns): "He's from Mali, and he's in his 60s. He sings in his tribal language and a French crossover language. A lot of the songs are about women, community, families, God, and survival. It's like the blues—very repetitive and very gospel-y in its cadence."
Miles Davis, Ascenseur Pour L'éChafaud (Verve): "This is the soundtrack to the Louis Malle film Elevator to the Gallows. I hear a bit of Coltrane and other people's riffs, too. It has a lot of emotional ups and downs, it's elegant, and it's lyrical."
Bob Dylan, Live at the Gaslight (Columbia): "This was only recently released. It's mellow; I'm really into the mellow thing. He does 'Barbara Allen' and a version of 'Moonshiner' that's so different from the one I'd first heard. It's a peaceful record."
The Rolling Stones, England's Newest Hitmakers (Abkco): "This was their first, with songs like 'Walking the Dog' and 'I'm a King Bee.' You hear in their sound how much they admire people like Chuck Berry. I've always loved this record; it was my stepdad's, and it stuck."