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Join the Parade (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

Marc Cohn takes some chances this time out. The sound, while inviting, is generally a bit rougher and dirtier than on his other albums — thank goodness. His manner of writing has shifted as well, from well-clipped phrases (still present on the album's beautiful gospel and soul-tinged opener, "Listening to Leon") to places where the ends of his lines become absorbed into the instrumental backing. And yes, it is a very good thing. Excellent examples are on the moody second cut, "The Calling (Charlie Christian's Tune)," where Charlie Sexton's loops, the two drummers playing counterpoint shuffles, Benmont Tench on B-3, and Patrick Warren on Chamberlin and pump organ wrap his voice inside an atmosphere of such warmth and depth that the singer gets seduced by his own tale. There's real interaction here, not just a singer and a backing band. Sexton's electric guitar and Shane Fontayne's strumming acoustic give Cohn the ability to let himself get lost in all this support. And underneath it all is Jennifer Condos' bass, inching the story along. The backing vocals by Charley Drayton and Ephram Owens' muted trumpet solo bring everybody to the table, and the story unfolds like one told in close quarters. "Dance Back from the Grave" brings a sinister, distorted, controlled snarl with Sexton's guitars, the acoustic bassline, the drummers, the horns, and Cohn's world-weary voice, sounding like he's on the edge of some precipice calling like a prophet into the heavens, hells, and other realms for the dead of New Orleans to rise and make their way back to Congo Square for one more night, for a proper sendoff. The Holmes Brothers' deep, sweet three-part harmonies (with Popsy Dixon's gorgeous falsetto riding the top) transform a rather ordinary, bluesy Southern blue-eyed soul tune into something wholly other.

While the first four tunes are engaged with memory, regret, and amends for past misdeeds, "Let Me Be Your Witness" is one of affirmation with a three-part backing female chorus that includes Shelby Lynne and the inimitable Paulette McWilliams and Sharon Bryant. Cohn's piano whispers as Sexton and Fontayne's guitars stroll it out with Tench's B-3 and Condos' bassline fueled by those two drummers. It's gospel, but it's the human gospel: "When no one sees and no one hears/Your secret heart/Your bitter tears/When it feels like you're sinking in the sand/When you can't remember who you are/You wonder how you came this far/Call my name and put me on the stand...." The chorus calls out "Let me be your witness" and Cohn responds like a preacher to every line: "To your mystery/To your ecstasy/...I will testify/To your longest night...." "Giving Up the Ghost," written with former producer John Leventhal, features Lynne in a harmony vocal performance. Fontayne's National Steel is drenched in otherworldly tones underscored by Warren's keyboards, Sexton's live guitar loops, a bouzouki and cello, and those two drummers whispering in the spirits as Cohn's protagonist joins them in a story of the ultimate surrender of lost love. It's chilling, sad, and so utterly picaresque and beautiful that the listener can see the story unfold and witness this forlorn and busted heart trying to come to grips with that loss, only to be drawn in again: "Now I'm feeling much better/But I'm still on the brink/I just got a letter/In vanishing ink."

These images of ghosts and grinning shadows permeate the album, but they speak in flesh and blood: Cohn's. He walks between worlds, or at least sees between them seemingly without effort, wrapping his words in melodies so moody and seductive, inhabited as they are by sounds and spaces never heard before in his recordings, that they draw the listener in nearly obsessively. Acceptance seems to be the key for bittersweet memory, righting wrongs, and finding a safe place to be in a world that is unsafe. Just ask those who are forgotten and have seen it at its worst — check out "My Sanctuary," yet another song for New Orleans, about the hurricane and the water and the death and its backbone. The Holmes Brothers become the choir as drummers, hand percussion, guitars, organs, Jerome Smith's trombone, and Owens' flügelhorn underscore not only the marching of the funerals through the streets, but the resilience of the place itself. The final cut is a whispered prayer of earthly wisdom about the movement of time and life, despite losses that may be so great that one cannot conceive of living with them. It's a final hymn of acceptance with the Tosca String Quartet underscoring Cohn's words and piano, and a small band to pick up the slack. Quietly speaking with the authority of a Buddhist sage, Cohn is so sure of this truth that he moves it right out of the track and into the heart of the listener. Cohn may have taken years, and driven himself crazy with various versions of these songs, but in the end it all comes down to that last track and what it offers: solace in acceptance. Join the Parade, as an album, is the strongest record he's cut. Let's hope somebody hears it.

Customer Reviews

So Nice To Have Marc Cohn Back!

After a nine year absence, Marc Cohn has finally released a new album -- and it's terrific. Join The Parade certainly bolsters Marc's well-deserved reputation as a thoroughly gifted and thoughtful songwriter and stylist. Since his last album was released in the late 1990's, I must have listened to his other three CD's at least 100 times each. After listening to this new CD a couple of times, this one will not be slighted -- I may reach the 100 play point by month's end! "If I Were An Angel" is a bit of a departure for Marc -- a terrific falsetto in the chorus tends to stay in one's head. "Listening to Levon" is also an early favorite -- yet another of his terrific story songs, this one about an adolescent more captivated by the sound of The Band's Levon Helm than the willing young woman next to him in his beater car. "Let Me Be With Your Witness" is firmly in the tradition of his earlier work, but with a lovely female voice lending a hauntingly uplifting note to the chorus. "Live Out The String" is Marc's obvious nod to being shot a couple of years ago in Denver; it is a life-affirming track. The rest of the tracks are also quite good -- not a dud on the album. The above four are simply this reviewers early favorites. If you like smart, literate music with some genuine blue-eyed soul, this is a must have.

Great ... as expected

As with many others who've written, I'm a huge Marc Cohn fan from way back, so it's no shocker that I think this album is fantastic. If you like your singer-songwriter stuff with a lot of soul (and some blues/R & B overtones), Marc is someone you should be checking out. Marc joked in concert that songwriters and serial killers have one thing in common: they both hear voices in their heads--except the ones in his head sound like Sam Cooke. That tells you all you need to know. When your hero is the man who invented soul, you're starting from a good place. And, if you've heard Marc's stuff, it's clear he knows how to walk in those footsteps. I've only played it a few (20?) times so far, but some highlights on this album include: "Let Me Be Your Witness" | "Live Out the String" | "Giving Up the Ghost" | and "Join the Parade" (great, affirming, infectious chorus). I'm sure my favorites will change as I continue to play it (and play it, and play it). Buy the whole album, you'll be glad you did. From his great, dirty-ashtray voice to his perceptive, poetic lyrics, Marc Cohn has a lot of soul. And it really comes through on "Join the Parade."


The album is awsome! All the songs are winners. "Witness" and "Angel" are particularly vintage Cohn. Its been a too long since we have heard from Mr. Cohn...good things come to those who wait!!!


Born: July 5, 1959 in Cleveland, OH

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

One Sunday morning in the early '70s, a youngster in Cleveland caught an earful of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and his life was never to be the same. That kid was Marc Cohn, and soon after that morning, he bought everything Morrison had released to date, along with works by Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. Soon thereafter, an older brother taught him a Ray Charles tune on the piano, and he joined a cover band, Doanbrook Hotel. He sang with them from junior high school until he left home for Oberlin...
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