Wednesday, July 28, 2010

'Raise your voice, make a joyful noise..'

Went to the Lower East Side last night for a "secret" show by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Marc Cohn, thanks to some imaginative advance work on Twitter by his management.

Turned out it was a beautifully intimate performance at The Living Room, maybe forty people in total, and it was a nice ambience for him to run through some of the songs from his newly-released album "Listening Booth - 1970", a collection of covers of songs from that year.

Flanked by his longtime collaborator and producer of the new record, John Leventhal, and by the brilliant former Springsteen sideman Shane Fontayne, Cohn tenderly re-invented classics like McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed", Cat Stevens' "Wild World", and Badfinger's "No Matter What" - strangely, one of the first songs I ever remember hearing on the radio.

I'm a couple of years younger than Cohn, and although I obviously came to the same music at a tangent geographically - I guess Belfast and Cleveland aren't that far apart in the grand scheme - I can totally relate now to the importance of that particular point in time, and exactly why that year is so noteworthy.

There were just some truly game-changing albums released that year: "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Tea For The Tillerman", "Layla", "Deja Vu", "After The Gold Rush" and "Let It Be" among them.

1970 is the year of the Beatles' break-up and Hendrix and Joplin's deaths, of My-Lai, Apollo 13, Joni Mitchell's environmental shout-out in "Big Yellow Taxi"; the Kent State shootings and social unrest (although "Ohio" didn't appear on a CSNY album until the following year. Likewise, Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was recorded in June of 1970, but not released until the following January).

And it's the year Belfast's own Van Morrison released his classic "Moondance", which Cohn acknowledges was hugely influential in his own musical development. (Of all the tracks on Cohn's album, "Into The Mystic" is probably the most faithful to its original.)

What Cohn's getting at is that songs from that very specific period, while they may have been tremendously important and socially relevant when they were first heard, are simply timeless as music and deserve to be re-imagined, and continuously celebrated.

His versions last night of "The Only Living Boy in New York" (which maybe owed a little more to Everything But The Girl's arrangement than Paul Simon's original) and, especially, Burt Bacharach's "Close To You" were so perfect for his voice they could even have been his own songs.

In a couple of weeks, rather amazingly, it'll be five years since the incident in Denver which - thankfully - led to Cohn's resurgence as a songwriter with "Join The Parade" and his rediscovery of the sheer joy of making music.

In a way, with this retrospective album - just his fifth - he's also celebrating songs that are still as vibrant, still as alive as when they were first heard. It's like making a full circle connection, a pause on the path to look back at how far we've come before stepping out again on a new trail.

On NPR, you can listen to a one-hour show Cohn did recently for Mountain Stage here; and a previous WXPN live show to promote "Join The Parade" here.

And he's playing two shows later tonight, Weds 28th at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street before heading out on tour. If he's coming to your town, please don't miss him.

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