Accompanied by world-class guitarist Shane Fontayne and occasional vocals by Amy Correia, the masterful Marc Cohn lifted up the full-house audience at Boarding House Park with his stellar compositions like “Walking in Memphis,” “Silver Thunderbird,” and “True Companion” as well as beautifully rendered covers of a handful of hits from 1970 that are featured on his new CD, “Listening Booth: 1970.”
Cohn and Fontayne filled the Park with lush sounds of piano and various guitars, complementing and magnifying each other’s musicianship. Fontayne is a veteran of sessions and shows with Sting and Springsteen. Marc Cohn was a strong presence on stage, introducing many of the songs with back-story tidbits and bantering at times with audience members. What came through was his artistry as a composer and performer—and in particular his deeply textured singing. He joked about a good Jewish boy singing gospel and the blues in Memphis. Cohn’s love of the American songbook makes him a kind of throwback to an earlier era when musicians immersed themselves in the whole tradition on their way to finding their own voices and sounds.
From the covers CD he played “Wild World” by Cat Stevens, “Long as I Can See the Light” by John Fogerty, “The Letter” by the Boxtops, “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, and “No Matter What” by Badfinger—each in distinctive interpretations, often slower and more bluesy or slightly countrified. These won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the songs are so strong they hold up to Cohn’s new takes. When you’ve heard something the same way for 40 years, it requires some adjustment to receive these versions. His live renderings of “Wild World” and “Into the Mystic” were especially pleasing tonight.
And what can one say about “Walking in Memphis”? It’s a hall-of-fame candidate. Cohn mentioned that he heard that Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam has the song on his iPod-mix. He also let people know that the song is a tribute to Muriel the pianist, not Elvis and his blue suede shoes, as some folks assume.
We had a perfect night of weather and music at the Lowell Summer Music Series. Onward with Suzanne Vega, Patty Larkin, and Herbie Hancock next weekend!