Marc Cohn: The Things We've Handed Down
Grammy-winning piano bluesman and composer Marc Cohn made a huge splash with his self-titled 1991 debut, winning both mainstream recognition and high praise from the gospel, americana, and deep blues communities. The album was perfect for its age, supported by the subtle strings of folk genius Robin Batteau and the folkpop production of John Leventhal - the same producer who made Shawn Colvin a star, and later, turned his wife Roseanne Cash into the second Cash coming - and released in an arena which was overdue for a male voice which could compete with the Shawn Colvins of the pop-hybrid genre spectrum.
But as I age, just as I prefer Shawn Colvin's less perfect, more subtle songs, it is Cohn's second album, the more pensive, mature Rainy Season, which I find myself coming back to. Released two years after the first, Cohn's sophomore release moves beyond the themes of childhood and young love which so please the popular mind to consider the stillness that is real love and family: the inner life of housebound mothers standing in their backyards at night, the mystery of death explained to children, the miracle and promise and mystery of birth. The album isn't perfect -- it yaws too far, I think, trying to please too many constituencies who joined the bandwagon with the first album, and the track arrangement is less than inspired -- but once you get past the AAA poppiness of the first two tracks, it has much more hits than misses. And it says something that when my children were first born, it was this final, perfect track which taught me that what I was feeling was right on, and really was as big as it felt.
Y'all know me: here's where I usually add a cover or two, if one is to be found. And they can indeed be found: since its release in 1993, the song has been covered by other, folkier fathers of the same sensitive new age male mold, most notably John Gorka and Art Garfunkel. But such versions are strained in comparison: not one holds a candle to the wonder of the original. For once, then, instead of sharing the covers, I'll ask you to trust me: this one needs no versions.
If I had to pick one song to give to an impending father, to show just what emotion was about to hit him like truck, it would be this original. This is the song that still makes me, as a father, stop in my tracks, and remember the moment when I knew that my tiny daughters were a thousand generations in my hands, and simultaneously all the hope I ever had, incarnate. How terrifying, and how wondrous.
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