Marc Cohn has a Grammy Award and name recognition, but five years between albums is enough to make him feel like a new artist all over again.
The New York-based singer-songwriter, whose third Atlantic album, “Burning the Daze,” is out March 17, invokes profound admiration for the Beatles to explain his long absence.
“It’s amazing to me, you can’t compare anything possibly in popular music to the Beatles,” Cohn said recently, “but when you think about when they would put out ‘Revolver’ and ‘Rubber Soul’ in the same year (1966), it’s unthinkable, not to mention two records like that in a career. That’s something I’m not capable of doing. People like that are in a league by themselves. It takes me a long time to get a group of songs that I feel good about together.
“Up to this point, I had felt real proud of the two first records I had released. I don’t feel like there’s any contract between me and whoever it is who buys my records. I just think it’s my job to do good work whenever it comes to me. So if it takes me a long time between records … obviously, I would rather it didn’t, but sometimes that’s just what happens.”
In Cohn’s case, it happened for a reason.
After winning the Grammy for best new artist in 1992 for his platinum-selling self-titled debut LP and a hit song (“Walking in Memphis”) and following it up with an acclaimed album (“The Rainy Season”), Cohn came off three solid years of touring faced with a crisis at home. He and his wife soon separated, and their children now split time between their parents.
Some artists facing similar circumstances might take the dark, cynical route. Cohn, though, is surprisingly upbeat and philosophical, and that’s reflected in the durable, confident tracks on “Burning the Daze.”
“I’m better than I’ve ever been, actually,” Cohn said. “I know that may sound like a strange thing to say considering a lot of the traumatic things I’ve been through, but in a way, I think those things happened for a reason.
“I found that at least part of the reason for me was to open my eyes a little bit to who I am and what I really want. That’s a frightening thing to have happen, but it’s also very liberating. I’m more at the tail end of the trauma and a little closer to the beginning of a new life. That’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve worked very hard trying not to look at all that’s happened with a cynical view, because in the end, I think I’ve learned a lot. It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason.”
Cohn jokingly says he may save the anger and negativity for the next record. For now, the focus is on his children.
“Mostly this experience has been very healing for me and for my kids,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot, and it’s been very painful. We’re also a lot closer. There’s something I can sense in my life, it feels more genuine and authentic, and that’s always a good thing. And I think some of that comes through in the music.
“It’s a real painful thing, that my kids aren’t there every morning when I wake up or, more to the point, that I’m not there when they wake up. That’s very hard. And I must say, it makes you appreciate more the time you have together. I just feel so much more bonded to them, and I feel like I have so much more to give to them. It’s very hard to explain, but somehow out of the relationship I was in, I feel more like a capable person, including my parenting skills.”
Since “The Rainy Season,” the musical tables have turned. Female artists, from Sarah McLachlan to Jewel, dominate the charts, while their male counterparts struggle for recognition.
“I think all those women deserve the attention they’re getting, that’s for sure,” Cohn said. “I would say that most of them are immense talents, people I really enjoy listening to. I don’t think it’s an accident.
“There are some men out there who deserve a little more attention than they’re getting, and hopefully eventually they will. … One thing begets the same thing for a while; trends are almost a natural law. At some point, I think that trend will not be as strong, and there’ll probably be a shift.
“There’s always a battle to fight, in somebody else’s mind. In a way for me, it’s extra motivation to prove them wrong. I’m sure it will be a bit of a uphill battle, it always is. It’s hard to achieve success and maintain it.” He won’t get that best new artist Grammy again, but Cohn trusts fans will welcome him back.
“I think for the people who did see me in concert and the people who really got into both of my records,” he said, “they’re aware of what I’ve been doing, that it’s really not a beginning. There’s always new people you want to reach, and I think I’ve made a record that can do that.”
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