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Marc Cohn Takes It Personally

Pop music review: The singer-songwriter returns with an album that taps into his emotional turmoil and a stage presence that belies it.

March 20, 1998|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — In his new, mostly autobiographical album, "Burning the Daze," Marc Cohn tackles the breakup of his marriage and a troubled, virtually motherless childhood. It's a truly dark, demanding and often haunting work.

In support of the LP, released earlier this week, the New York-based singer-songwriter kicked off a national tour Wednesday night at the Coach House. Anyone expecting a sullen, self-absorbed performer got quite a pleasant surprise.

Affable, chatty and often downright funny, Cohn fostered a warm atmosphere in which the capacity crowd shared song verses, one-liners and plenty of smiles. The show seemed closer in spirit to a record-release party than a formal, sit-down concert.

Despite his three-year absence from the concert stage, the 39-year-old Cohn performed almost flawlessly for two hours, striking just the right balance among humorous asides, catchy pop-rockers and serious-minded ballads.

Unlike years past, Cohn sings with a voice informed by harsh personal times. The emotional turmoil that apparently engulfed his life over the last four years has added an edge of desperation and perhaps a better understanding of life's complexities. The folk-based musician's latest material resonates with newfound intensity.

Capably backed by guitarist Shayne Fantayne and keyboardist-percussionist Kenny White, Cohn connected with the anthem-like "Walk Through the World," a testament to the power of limitless possibilities. Also impressive was a soulful, bluesy rendering of Willie Dixon's "29 Ways," which had the audience clapping along as Cohn's husky vocals and Fantayne's bottleneck guitar work led the charge.

*

The more introspective, slower side of Cohn's repertoire proved the most satisfying. Several early numbers stood out, including a spiritually tinged ballad titled "Healing Hands" and "Lost You in the Canyon," a somber warning of stardom's pitfalls.

Most rewarding of all was a show-closing trilogy of revelatory, superior selections.

First up was a sober reflection on intergenerational conflicts titled "The Things We've Handed Down." The mood then soared upward with "True Companion," which offered Cohn's most passionate vocals of the night in a song celebrating romantic faith and perseverance. Finally, he delivered a new, gospel-flavored version of Harry Nilsson's "Turn On Your Radio," which served as both a bittersweet farewell to his ex-wife and declaration of his independence, as Cohn sang: "I hope the wind that's blowin'/Helps me carry on/Turn on your night light, baby baby/I'm gone."

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