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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Cohn Takes the Low-Key Road at Coach House

September 02, 1993|MIKE BOEHM

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — "All things in moderation" may be fine advice for living, but it's no way to go about playing pop music, especially pop grounded in Southern soul and R&B.

A capable songwriter and earnest performer, Marc Cohn, last year's Grammy winner for best new artist, is not out of his depth as he attempts to build a pop career out of R&B roots--his tour-opening show on Tuesday at the Coach House here covered or quoted songs by Willie Dixon, Van Morrison and Al Green. Cohn's husky voice, while limited in range, has a fair amount of grit in it--enough to make him sound at home with his influences.

What limits this piano-playing New Yorker is his restraint. He has an evenness of artistic temperament that won't let him tap into the wired strangeness, the extremity of feeling and experience, that you're apt to get from a hotter-blooded rock-R&B exponent.

A slick recording approach enforces that evenness on his records. Live, one hoped, Cohn would be able to break through and present his music free of fetters. No such luck Tuesday. Cohn, who also performs on Friday at the Strand, was backed by a ho-hum trio that stuck close to the approach of his records, playing low-cholesterol music instead of cooking with hot sauce and sizzling grease.

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