Marc ‘Walking in Memphis’ Cohn headlines at The Rose Friday

When Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” hit the airwaves in early 1991, it was unlike anything else being spun on pop or album-rock radio stations of the day. Infused with strains of gospel and blues, its sound was rooted in Cohn’s burly, deeply soulful baritone and piano, not the slick synthesizers that dominated ’80s pop or the angry grunge guitars that would transform pop culture later in the year. In its craft and imagistic lyrics, it harked back to the ’70s (as did Cohn’s ex-boss, Tracy Chapman), and some wondered if it signaled a return to chart-topping popularity for singer-songwriters. It didn’t. But “Walking in Memphis” — at its heart a song about identity, revelation and transformation — seemed an illuminating beacon for a young decade. It’s a testament to its power that both the song and the recording still inspire.

The self-titled album that spawned it, which was certified platinum in 1996, reaped accolades and earned Cohn a Best New Artist Grammy Award. A handful of his singles cracked the top 100 in the early ’90s, and to this day, “Walking in Memphis” remains his signature song. That might disturb some artists, but Cohn, who has earned a solid following on the concert circuit and critical respect, seems to have made peace with it. The avowed Paul Simon fan has steadily resisted musical trends in favor of taking his time composing and making albums (five studio releases, a couple of concert releases and a best-of compilation) with formidable players whose names are familiar to liner note geeks: Brady Blade, Larry Campbell, David Crosby, David Hidalgo, Jim Keltner, Charlie Sexton, Benmont Tench.

Last year, the Ohio native celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Marc Cohn” with a tour on which he and his band performed the album in its entirety. He also released “Evolution of a Record,” an EP of demos (mostly of “Memphis”), and “Careful What You Dream: Lost Songs and Rarities,”  13 tracks that didn’t make the cut for his debut album that he and co-producer Ben Wisch had uncovered after forgetting about them for years. Observant and melodic as the best of his work, most of the songs have aged well, particularly the title track and “Maestro” — which, in contrast to the celebratory “Memphis,” takes poignant note of music’s cost for those who pledge themselves to its creation.

Since co-writing five songs for Stax legend William Bell’s recent Grammy-winning album “This is Where I Live” (whose producer, John Leventhal, also co-produced some of Cohn’s early albums), Cohn has said he has been moved to write new songs for his next album. Hopefully he will introduce a few in his set when he headlines at The Rose Friday night. 


Marc Cohn headines at The Rose, Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, at 9 p.m. Friday, April 28; $28-$58. Sean Vincent Callero opens at 7 p.m. Info: (888) 645-5006. marccohnmusic.com, roseconcerts.com