Marc Cohn is one of my all time favorite artists. Most people likely are not aware of him beyond his early 1990’s success with “Walking In Memphis“. Perhaps people know him more because he is married to Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News. That’s really too bad because he is an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter.One thing Marc isn’t though, is prolific. He has released just 4 albums of original material since 1991. There are a couple of reasons that it takes Marc so long to put a record out. For one thing he is the consummate artist, who does not have a concept of “filler”. Each song is a piece of him, meaning he will not put something out that he does not feel is up to his standards. While that does not necessarily mean you will like every song you hear on a Marc Cohn album, it means that he does. The other reason that Marc’s output of new material may seem a bit pedestrian is because he suffers, at times, from severe writers block. Going long periods of time without the ability to write a complete song.
Over 9 years had passed between Marc’s previous album Burning The Daze and the release of his fourth studio effort Join The Parade in 2007. In those nine years much had happened to the world and to Marc personally that heavily influenced the writing and subject matter tackled on this record. But there were 2 big events that opened up up the floodgates and started him writing again. The first was that on August 7th 2005, following a concert with Suzanne Vega in Denver, he was shot in the head during an attempted car jacking. Miraculously the bullet struck him in the temple but did not penetrate his skull. Just a few short weeks later, while he was home recovering from the shooting, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Shore. Like us he watched the horrific aftermath of the hurricane unfold. These two events would smash through his writers block and provide much of the back drop of the Join The Parade.
Perhaps the most transparent track on the record is “Live Out The String“, which seems to explore the question of why one would survive a tragic event. The “Why Me?” of post traumatic syndrome.From the opening line of the song (maybe life is curious to see what you would do with the gift of being left alive…) it is clear that what is on Marc’s mind is that he is trying to answer that question for himself. And while he explores many reasons, he keeps coming back to ..Sometimes you have to get down on your knees. Despite the what would seem heavy subject matter, the song is anything but. It’s a wonderful celebration of the gift of life. Dance Back From The Grave is an acoustic blues gem that celebrates New Orleans, it’s history and the cities resiliency. While this album is as solid from start to finish as would come to expect from a Marc Cohn offering, there are 2 tracks that stand out above the rest on this gem. Listening To Levon is just as good as gets, classic Marc Cohn. While it is an homage to the late,great Levon Helm from The Band, it’s wrapped up with the distant memory of a high school sweetheart and simpler times, a euphoric recall that turns into a classic offering. When we lost Levon last spring, I listened to this song as a comforting memory knowing that he touched so many of us with his music, that there was somebody else out there in the cosmos that had been affected by it the same way as I had. The other thing that I love about this song is Cohn’s subtle humor buried within the song. As many fans of his know, on his debut album he sang the praises of his fathers Silver Thunderbird. On this cut he refers to his dad’s blue Valiant…then later in the song admits that I may even lied about the car. The other song that stands above the rest is Let Me Be Your Witness, a wonderfully written piano driven love song that borders on gospel. It is a beautiful love song that has the narrator standing up for his true love and willing to testify to all of the qualities of his love that he cherishes. I love the urgency that you feel from Marc’s voice during the bridge where pleads over and over “Put me on the stand,baby…Put me on the stand,baby…”
Join The Parade was a triumphant return for Marc Cohn. The only question that remains is “how long do we have to wait for another album of new material???”
Other Marc Cohn on this blog: