It is not very often that Central New York is treated to Grammy Award winning artists, let alone two in one night at the same show. On January 12th, the Palace Theatre in Syracuse, NY was honored to feature Paula Cole and Marc Cohn in their limited engagement tour.
The show opened with Paula Cole, accompanied by long time band mates percussionist, Ben Wittman and guitarist, Kevin Barry on a number that immediately drew in the audience with the strong beat and lyrics. She had me as she began to stomp and clap to the beat as though she was performing a Latin American dance of some sort. When an artist can stand up and perform as an entire musical instrument through body percussion and beat-boxing, I’m hooked. I loved her voice and musicality (I am a sucker for a piano every time), however I soon realized that it would be her lyrics that stood out to me . Her ability to take life’s moments and place them to music and tell a story is not an easy feat, and she does it beautifully. Paula narrated her songs as she performed them. As she explained at what point and time in her career she wrote them, who and what they pertained to, and how she was influenced by many personal stories, it made the listener more attentive to not only the music, but the lyrics and gave them a sense of ownership in the song.
Reminiscent of past singers and writers of other eras, Paula’s music brought me back to a time in the 60’s and 70’s where music was written to deliver a message. Messages in songs such as “Billy Joe” demonstrated a side of touring that is not so glamorous but filled with numerous lonely and isolated days on the road only to pick up and move on again from city to city. Her song “Happy Home” is written as a tribute to her mother and way for her to express her understanding of her situation. Paula described seeing in her mother’s eyes a her longing to be more than just a wife and mother. She saw the longing to let out an adventurous creative woman that was inside but never broke free because she was bound by the duty of her generation to be a wife and mother and maker of the “Happy Home”. She revealed to the audience that when writing her hit “I Don’t Want to Wait”, it wasn’t originally written to be the soundtrack for Dawson’s Creek, however it was a message about ending the cycles of anger and abuse that families go through at times. She also delivered wonderful covers of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By’ and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. Again delivering them with a fortitude and spunk that resonated an inner strength within her and clearly gave her audience an impression of who she is and what she is all about.
No matter what tune she is performing or writing, you can be rest assured that Paula Cole will deliver it with a strength and presence that resonates who she is and what she stands for. If I was to describe her music style I would definitely call it versatile and eclectic. Many times artists tend to create a “sound” that is distinctively their own. Often done so with several songs that begin to sound the same. Although Paula’s music has a common thread and sound, each song takes on a life of its own delivering an unique sound and poignant message. This eclectic vibe is what makes her extremely talented and demonstrates how she refused to become cookie cutter. Instead she pushes her boundaries and the listener to gifted with music that is new and fresh and different.
As Marc Cohn took the stage you immediately knew that you were in for a treat. He drew in the audience with his bluesy sound and forceful voice performing Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways”. Wow is all I could say. Again, I was hooked. Joined by Kevin Barry on guitar and Glenn Patscha on keyboards, this trio took over the audience for the rest of the evening and kept them rocking. As he sang this and other songs, his improvisations were amazingly witty and lightened the mood of each audience member reminding us that we were there to have a good time and loosen up. Although he was the most amazing musician, he clearly was a performer and really down to earth person. Anyone who can improvise lyrics in songs as he goes and crack jokes while doing so, is a true performer.
Inspiration comes from many sources for each artist, and I detected a similar bluesy pop quality to songs “Walk Through This world With Me” and “Perfect Love”, which were reminiscent of tunes from Eric Clapton and James Taylor, and similar artists of that time period. While “Silver Thunderbird” had a tad hint of Jackson Browne in it, in my opinion. You could tell with choices of tunes he’s recorded over the years his influences on his music and his song writing. His album Listening Booth, 1970 is an entire album dedicated to influences on his music as he covers songs such as “Wild World” and “After Midnight”. But it is his rendition of “Baby I’m Amazed” that is my ultimate favorite and is a beautiful tribute to an amazing songwriter and performer, Paul McCartney.
Marc brought Paula out to join him on this last show of their short tour to sing “The Letter” a song made famous by The Box Tops back in 1967 during the Vietnam War era and another on the Listening Booth album. Their rendition and styles mesh perfectly to deliver a jazzy rendition of the tune.
Musicians often write songs for hire and at times suffer from writers block and go for extended periods of time without writing any new material. Marc shared his personal story one of these blocks he went through recently and for the first time in four years he broke through this block and how he did just this. He recently was asked, along with several other NYC musicians, to put together a song to accompany a story. The project revolved around a story of the men that come from Canada with their Christmas trees to sell on Broadway each year during Christmas time in NY City. They don’t usually have much money and often no where to stay. With the help from an unlikely source in the story was the song “Treeman” born. “Treeman” will be featured as the project song and we were fortunate to be one of the first audiences to hear his new song, and it was amazing. It was as if he saved all his best lyrics from the past four years to use in one song.
Marc often is asked if he ever gets tired of singing his hit “Walking in Memphis” and he’s adamant about how proud he is of the song and how he never tires of playing this one. As a huge fan, I must say I am so thankful he doesn’t tire of it, because he audiences never will. This is his signature tune. The one most adored by fans all over, and rightly so. This tune will be one of the classic tunes that will span generations and be covered by artists in the future, just as Marc covered the tunes of those that inspired him.
Overall the shows from both Paul Cole and Marc Cohn were beyond amazing. They are the perfect pairing to compliment each others styles, and for audiences attending. The playlist for the evening in both sets brought the audience back to a time when music was mostly performed acoustically with just a singer/songwriter and a piano, and without the pomp and circumstance, but just the music and the audience. Central New Yorkers were treated this evening, and we thank Paula and Marc for making a stop to share such talent in our neck of the woods.