Marc Cohn

Listening Booth: 1970

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Marc Cohn is a songwriter and singer whose own work is full of original touches and excellent, and craft, such as on his hit "Walking in Memphis." Sometimes, as evidenced by the track "Let Me Be Your Witness," from 2007's excellent Join the Parade, he even reaches the level of the profound. His voice suits his own material perfectly -- but that's not the same thing as being an interpretive singer. Listening Booth: 1970 is an homage to the hit songs of that year. As a youth, Cohn claims he crouched inside a soundproof booth at his local record shop and was blown away by what he heard in these songs and others. He's claimed in interview that these songs and others like them set him upon his chosen path as a musician. Fair enough. That said, he should have written those memories down in a journal rather than recorded them.

Cohn just isn't singer enough to pull any of these tunes off -- with one exception, and that's because of his duet partner. Iconic songs, such as Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," John Fogerty''s "Long as I Can See the Light," J.J. Cale's "After Midnight," Cat Stevens' "Wild World," Paul Simon's "The Only Living Boy in New York," the Boxtops' "The Letter," and Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" are nearly murdered by Cohn's shortcomings as an interpretive vocalist and his plodding, unoriginal, overly sentimental arrangements. There are a few guest vocalists that help him out -- or at least do their best trying -- Aimee Mann on Badfinger's "No Matter What," India.Arie on David Gates' (Bread) "Make It with You," and newcomer Kristina Train on Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown." Because of Cohn's singing, however, these end up in worse shape than the tracks he tries solo. (It would be nice to hear more from Train, however, because she's clearly talented.) Only the reading of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie" gets pulled off on this set, and that's largely because of Jim Lauderdale's wily, reckless, free-spirited vocals. Listening Booth: 1970 might make for an interesting gab bit on NPR, but not something to listen to -- even once -- all the way through. This album is a huge misstep in Cohn's career; hopefully, he has this virus out of his system and can go back to writing and recording original material. [The Barnes & Noble Edition comes with a bonus track, an insipid cover of "Close to You."]

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