REVIEW: Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama Capture Magic in a Bottle


Marc Cohn and Blind Boys of Alabama are set to release their collaboration, Work To Do on BMG records on August 9th. With this mix of studio and live material, they have managed capture a bit of magic in a bottle by seamlessly blending gospel, soul, rock and pop in an album that captivates and inspires.

“Work To Do” is an album that mixes incredible songwriting, new arrangements, beautiful vocals and stunning harmonies. The album originated from collaborations Cohn and the Blind Boys recorded in the studio that were intended to be released as an EP. That was until the special performance that was  captured live at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook, CT for the PBS concert series, The Kate. At that point, all parties seemed to understand that they had the material for a memorable full length album on their hands. They were right.

The album follows a an over year long tour that Cohn and the Blind Boys had recently completed, and that ultimately sparked the initial recording sessions. The release consists of three new studio recordings (two new songs as well as the gospel standard, “Walk In Jeruselum”) as well as seven songs captured live from the PBS special. “Work To Do” was produced by Grammy winner John Leventhal, who had worked with Cohn on 2017’s “Almost Home”. The Blind Boys consist of: founding member, Jimmy Carter, Eric ‘Ricky’ McKinnie, Joey Williams, Ben Moore and Paul Beasley. The Blind Boys have been honored with five Grammy’s themselves, as well as a Recording Academy lifetime Achievement Award. Cohn himself has also won a Grammy, so combined with, that’s a lot of gold featured on Work To Do, and it definitely shows.

The three studio recordings kick things off, with the gospel standard, “Walk In Jeruselum.” It’s a simple arrangement that sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Sparse of instrumentation, yet full of life. Quite simply, it’s joyous, and it’s fun. The mere combination of these voices, and handclaps announce that Work To Do is going to be a special journey indeed. The hearty laughter that concludes the track simply make it official.  The second studio track, “Talk Back Mic” adds more instrumentation, but the true magic remains the combination of voices. The third and final studio track is the title track, and it’s easily my favorite of the three. It’s catchy, cleverly written and powerful. Just a great song overall.

The live tracks begin with “Ghost Train,” the lyrics, the harmonies and finger snaps combine to create a vivid portrait in one’s mind. Cohn’s songwriting strength has always appealed to my imagination, and some of his best examples get the special treatment here via the Blind Boys. In particular, “Silver Thunderbird” and “Listening To Levon” are storyteller songs that I’m convinced make Springsteen green with envy.  Same thought for “Join The Parade”, which also showcases just how good a piano player Cohn is. But, Cohn’s talents aren’t the only ones on display here, and again, it’s the combination of all parties that make these tracks special. With Cohn’s accompaniment,  the Blind Boys shine even brighter in their own element with “Baby King” and “Amazing Grace.” The album winds down with a perfectly placed duo of “Walk In Memphis” and the absolutely stunning “One Safe Place”.

Work To Do is an album that hearkens back to what for me, was a magical time in music. Ironically, it was a time when Cohn’s debut and “Walking In Memphis” was dominating the airwaves. A time when so many special artists (old and new) were seeing their careers being revitalized or just releasing incredible music; Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, George Harrison and more. “Work To Do” manages to tap into that revitalized spirit. This is a special album that captures a memorable collaboration, and one that leaves you wishing for more. But, as Cohn nearly whispers at the conclusion of “One Safe Place”……”that’s all.”

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