Local Rhythms – Listening to Marc Cohn

cohn.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote that most current music wasn’t worth owning.  That’s not to say it’s not worth listening to, but most of it’s disposable when all is said and done.

I have a handful of artists, though, who are automatics – I’ll buy anything they put out, sight unseen.  It’s a short list – Patty Griffin, Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn and Don Henley (though I prefer to steal his music after what he and the Eagles did to the concert business)..   

I’ve added a couple of new names – the moody, ethereal band Winterpills, and Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt have recently made the cut.

Most people know Marc Cohn for his one big hit, “Walking in Memphis,” and his brush with mortality a few years back, when he was shot in the head during a carjacking.   

If you don’t know any more than that, you’re missing out on one of the most gifted songwriters alive.

He’s not prolific, with a mere four albums spanning an 18-year career. The most recent was 9 years in coming.   

But when Marc Cohn commits music to tape, it’s timeless, perfection.  “Join the Parade,” Cohn’s latest, is essential – a great artist’s greatest work.

One of his new songs in particular evokes what it means to be passionate about music.   

“Listening to Levon,” paints a picture of young lovers, long ago, kissing in a car.  The details – the girl’s features, the weather outside, are all there.  But what Cohn remembers best is a song on the radio that blurred everything else about the moment. 

“I was looking at the girl,” Cohn sings, “but I was listening to Levon” – Levon Helm, the sandy-voiced singer/drummer of the Band (in their heyday, another of my automatics). 

Great music transforms and transcends; it stops time and reveals possible worlds. 

Long after human entanglements end, it remains a constant friend.  To quote Stephen Stills – “I have my ship, and all her flags are flying/she is all that I have left, and music is her name.” 

When art speaks with unmistakable clarity, I need it as a constant companion.  That’s why I love my iPod I’m never without my music collection. 

And I’m here to tell you that “Join the Parade” is that rarest of things, a new record that you must own.  If the Internet ever crashes, you don’t want to be without it.   

Thursday: Conduction No. 167, Spaulding Auditorium – Lawrence “Butch” Morris is a musical renegade, working the confluence of jazz, new music, improvisation and contemporary classical music.  Using the Conduction® language of hand gestures, he improvises musical landscapes with ensembles from around the world.  Tonight, he conducts an expanded edition of Dartmouth’s Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

Friday: Al Alessi/Bill Wightman, Sophie & Zeke’s – The next JOSA season is just about set, and brochures should be hitting the streets in a few weeks.  Last year Alessi, who can croon like Sinatra or Van Morrison depending on his mood, opened the series.  This year, he’ll do it again, this time bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who sounds like a young Norah Jones.  Meantime, he and Wightman hold forth every First Friday in downtown Claremont’s hottest nightspot. 

Saturday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – It’s been awhile since the last heavy metal show at the Moose, and this one’s got a lot going for it.  It’s a reasonably priced post-Halloween show ($10 with a costume, $15 without), with five bands on the bill including the headliner – Soul Octane Burner, Anger Rising, Reflections of Mortality and Escape to Everything.  As a bonus, Hexerei will have demo copies of their long-awaited (and appropriately titled) third CD, “Pay Your Dues.”

Monday: Guy Davis, Capitol Center for the Arts – A bluesman of the first order, Davis mines the roots music of Robert Johnson (whom he portrayed off-Broadway in the early 90’s), Son House and Elmore James.  Davis has worked with some top-notch musicians over the years, but it’s solo, in a straight-backed chair, where he truly shines.  A Davis performance is an elemental experience – he’s as real as it gets.   

Tuesday: John Fogerty, Orpheum Theatre – How far has the music business come since the Sixties?  Well, Fogerty is back with his old label, Fantasy, a company he once swore an eternal enemy, and he’s released “Revival,” his most Creedence-like record in years.  If he hadn’t stayed so angry for so long, I’d venture he’s be filling hockey rinks today.  He’s an American original.

Wednesday: Terry Diers,  Canoe Club – A ubiquitous guitarist who works several.nights a week, playing solo or with a variety of Upper Valley ensembles.  Diers is incredibly diverse.   He plays 6 and 12 string guitar, slide, mandolin and is a talented singer as well.  Canoe Club owner John Chapin calls him “the essence of Northern  New England with a country overlay.”