Wanderer is the soundtrack to a montage of Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power, migrating across dusty plains of memory. Walking through whistling eddies of windblown pain and regret, traveling light on lesser known routes in the twilight, she traces and retraces the ridgelines of her life over eleven tracks. As an album it’s both a confession and a declaration of independence, a recognition of inner determination and strength that acknowledges a troubled past: a record of hope and fear in the most literal sense.

Radically removed from preceding album Sun, Wanderer boldly does away with the flashy synthesisers and pop-production that made its predecessor so charming and lovable to many. As sparse instrumentally as the land it crosses, Wanderer packs only the things it can fit in its backpack: a guitar, some minimal percussion, and, incongruously on one track, a vocoder. That said, occasionally Marshall will stop at a run-down bar to play for her drinks on a piano – the album showing us glimpses of her still there way after closing time, haunting the employees as they sweep up the debris of her history. Next morning she’s back out to the plains, wandering.

This rather literal interpretation might seem a little contrived, but its’s how Wanderer begs to be read. Bookended with two minute-and-a-half long tracks both sharing the same name as the album, these act like the opening and closing theme songs for a Cat Power Spaghetti Western. Contained within the remaining nine tracks are a spread of songs full of strolling guitars and cactus-sharp piano melodies that evoke a slow-moving gait across a parchment-baked landscape; so Latin is the flavour at times that we’re half waiting for the fuzzy trumpets of a mariachi band to pipe in.

While on paper this sounds like a cheese-stuffed concept that invites ridicule, Marshall makes it work surprisingly well by aligning her tumultuous life experience with the album’s sand-blasted, figurative journey. No one can argue with her authenticity – after early touring years living on the road, a boyfriend dead of a heroin overdose, a severe drink problem and then a near death experience just as Sun went into the top 10, she has a veritable walk-in closet of skeletons to draw on. But along with heavy-hitting content and fine penmanship, it’s the deft touch with which Marshall curates the songs that really elevates Wanderer. Not all tracks hit the same heights, but some sublime production choices, such as the doubling vocoder on the second half of the song ‘Horizon’ and the off-kilter rhythm of the album’s lo-fi punch, ‘You get’, display a surefootedness that encourages the listener to keep tagging along when more derivative numbers like ‘Robin Hood’ come calling.

The album’s de-facto single, ‘Woman’, features guest vocals from Lana Del Ray. A late addition to the LP after Marshall’s then Label Matador told her they didn’t like the album, the song is in parts a defiant, painful and ultimately joyful response. Deviating slightly from the formula to divulge more southern-soul swagger than its surrounding tracks, the track provides a noticeable centre point for the album to pivot on while also providing some welcome tonal variety.

Unfortunately, the tendency of the tracks to play close to the minimalist theme prevents Wanderer from ever transcending, but it remains a solid album of songs, steeped in a windblown melancholy that serve as a testament to Marshall’s gritty life experience and song-writing capabilities. Demonstrating her longevity, taste and maturity as an artist and edifying us to her tumultuous past, Wanderer is a worthy listen, that keeps us chasing her, slowly, over the next ridgeline.