Marc Cohn isn’t particularly prolific, but when he lays hands on a piano or guitar, something extraordinary happens. Witness the ubiquitous platinum success of “Walking in Memphis” from Cohn’s eponymous 1991 debut, which earned him a Best New Artist Grammy. Neither 1993’s The Rainy Season nor 1998’s Burning the Daze matched his debut’s immediacy, and it was nearly eight years before Cohn wrote new original music.
In 2005, after a self-released live album, Cohn was shot in Denver during a failed carjacking. Luckily, the bullet lodged in his temple and caused no lasting physical damage, but the dual emotional trauma of the shooting and Hurricane Katrina spurred a writing torrent that led to 2007’s Join the Parade.
Cohn has since experienced a similar dry spell, punctuated by 2010’s brilliant covers album, Listening Booth: 1970, and consistent touring. But not long after news broke that Cohn and wife/ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas were divorcing, an excellent new song, “The Coldest Corner in the World,” surfaced on his website.
“That song got me started on another writing jag, thank goodness,” says Cohn from his NYC home. “I think I have six or seven almost finished songs, and my friend John Leventhal and I are writing for the great old Soul legend William Bell, so being a songwriter is back at the center of my life, which feels great.”
Considering Cohn’s recently tumultuous life, it seems that songwriting is the catharsis that helps him relocate his personal and professional center.
“I’m in the middle of it so I’m not really processing why I’m doing this, but it’s in there,” Cohn says. “To find myself at 55, on the brink of another divorce and the trauma that results with your children, it’s been a difficult but ultimately healing time. When I’m trying to figure things out and needing various therapeutic outlets, songwriting has been really useful, and it’s happening again.”
Cohn’s fans can expect a sampling from his stellar catalog on this tour circuit, as well as a few new tunes, including the masterful Randy Newman-esque Pop of “The Coldest Corner.” It’s Cohn at his classic best.
“Major influences is a common question and, oddly enough, for reasons I’m not sure I understand, I rarely mention (Newman), but the truth is, he’s top of the list,” Cohn says. “I wasn’t aware of it as I was writing, but I hear it in retrospect. There’s something I recognize in the last two lines of the chorus; a funny line followed by a line that makes you stop smiling. A one-two punch.”
Hit us, baby, one more time.
MARC COHN plays 20th Century Theater Wednesday. Tickets/more info here .