Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Marc Cohn: Listening Booth: 1970

In 1970, I was just a tot, but Marc Cohn was old enough to realize how much he loved and appreciated good music; he was 10 or 11 years old at the time and it was the year he decided that he wanted to be a musician. It’s also the year the Beatles broke up, it was a new decade, and some truly iconic albums were released (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sweet Baby James and Moondance, to name a few). Now, 40 years later, Marc has chosen 13 songs to cover from that pivotal year on his new album, Listening Booth: 1970. Cool concept! You will find covers of songs by Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Van Morrison, Bread, Cat Stevens and more on this album. This project was not for the faint of heart!

Recording covers can be a tricky business. If the artist doesn’t change the song much from the original, then really what’s the point of redoing it? On the other hand, when someone takes a song that was popular and successful initially and changes it up too much, it might not be very well received. Hmm, what to do? How to make an old song with a new twist? I see the contestants on American Idol struggle with this all the time, and they usually settle for something in the middle. Marc Cohn, however, took things to the extreme; these songs do NOT sound like the originals. I was curious to learn how he chose the songs he used on this album, and he said he basically had two criteria when sorting through songs from 1970: the song actually had to lend itself to being changed up a bit, and it couldn’t have been covered by any other artist very recently to ensure that each song really was a fresh take on the original.

Now, the important question is whether I liked this album. My answer would be: mostly. There were some songs he chose that I didn’t necessarily love in the first place and Marc’s versions didn’t really do anything for me. There were others, however, that really surprised me for almost the same reason; I didn’t love them the first time but was surprised by them in their new versions. Two examples would be Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney) and Look At Me (John Lennon)- I’m not a huge Beatles fan, but I these two songs were really beautiful (I know, strike me dead that I don’t love the Beatles). My other fave was Make It With You (Bread); Marc teamed up with India.Arie for that one. I love Bread, India.Arie and Marc Cohn, so this song worked out very nicely for me.

Overall, I love this concept and the fact that Marc made these songs “his”, as Paula would counsel the youngsters on AI (past tense). If you’re old enough to remember the songs from when they were first popular, you might enjoy hearing a new version. If you’re not old enough to remember them, I think you’ll like them because they’re good, solid songs sung by a talented artist. Finally, a couple fun facts about Marc Cohn: he is married to ABC news correspondent Elizabeth Vargas, to whom he was introduced by Andre Agassi at the US Open, and five years ago he was shot in Denver during an attempted carjacking (okay, that second one wasn’t necessarily a “fun” fact, although he wasn’t seriously hurt).

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