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."