Marc Cohn: Listening Booth- 1970

Singer-songwriter covers influential singer-songwriters’ songs

Contemporary singer-songwriter Marc Cohn offers up an interesting concept album constructed from a dozen covers. The theme is an exploration of a year in which singer-songwriters really took flight, and music first hooked Cohn’s soul. As he points out, it was also a year in which both singles and albums flourished commercially, with the latter creating space in which the former could play a bit longer and dig a bit deeper. His selections cover singer-songwriters Cat Stevens (“Wild World”) and Van Morrison (“Into the Mystic), singer-songwriters who used bands as their vehicle, including Pete Ham (“Baby Blue”), John Fogerty (“Long as I Can See the Light”),  and David Gates (“Make It With You”), and singer-songwriters who found solo voices after departing famous groups, including Paul McCartney (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), John Lennon (“Look at Me”) and Eric Clapton (“After Midnight”).

One of the joys of 1970 is how many different voices, sounds and styles were mixing it up on the charts, and how surprisingly well they meshed together; among the songs covered here are folk, rock, power-pop, soul and gospel. Routing them all through a single voice, in one set of contemporary sessions, has the advantage of pulling them more tightly together, but loses some of the colors that made the original tapestry so interesting. Cohn’s voice and the middle tempos create an album that’s more of an artist statement than a set of covers, but the continuity also rubs away some of the original differences that make this collection of songs interesting as a set. The sonic palette is similar from track to track, though there enough subtleties and surprises to keep things interesting.

The muffled percussion on “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the forceful tack on “Look at Me,” and the blue-jazz reworking of the Box Tops “The Letter,” each help draw the songs away from their iconic renditions. Similarly, the spare take on Badfinger’s “No Matter What” builds winningly into a moving country-soul duet with Aimee Mann, and the slow, Tom Waitsian reading of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York City” takes the song from Central Park to the Bowery. The closing guitar-and-voice take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long as I Can See the Light” best highlights the soulfulness that pulls this album together. This is a subtle spin that may seem too mellow and samey on first pass, but Cohn’s vocal interpretations will draw you in and bind you to these interpretations. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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