ROCK / Riffs: The legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb on 'The Things We've Handed Down' by Marc Cohn

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The Independent Online
LIKE everyone else, I loved Marc Cohn's 'Walking in Memphis'. His new record hasn't been such an easy thing for him to get across, but it's still a very brilliant album and my favourite song on it is the last track, 'The Things We've Handed Down'. His voice has a very gnarly, grainy texture, like a Joe Cocker voice with kind of deep southern overtones to it. It's a simple, elegant arrangement - bass, drums, a little plucked rhythmic texture on the guitar. A Hammond B3 organ gives a churchy southern feel and the song has one of the most beautiful turns of melody I've ever heard. But the thing that makes it a song which will be recut again and again is the lyric, which deals with a child coming into the world, and the mother and the father looking at this with a certain kind of astonishment. 'Will you laugh just like your mother / Will you sigh like your old man / Will some things skip a generation like I've heard they often can?' Well, that's just too tender. I don't know how to react to that except to say that it touches me deeply. The last line of the song is a killer: 'And one day you may look at us and say that you were cursed / But over time that line has been extremely well-rehearsed / By our fathers and their fathers in some old distant town/ From places no one here remembers come the things we've handed down.' It's about that sense of wonder when we think about these people we didn't know, our ancestors. Marc Cohn has captured the poignancy of that.

On the album 'The Rainy Season' (7567-82491-2)

(Photograph omitted)

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