Stephen Cohen,
Real Life and Fiction
(BMI, 2000)

Having read the initial press release on Stephen Cohen and some of the critical praise he's received for his previous work, I was eager to spin his latest disc, Real Life and Fiction.

Cohen uses guitar and self-styled "musical sculptures," which are unique creations of his, to produce a very interesting sound accomplished mostly by recording in layers. Voice and bass guitar are laid down, and then improved guitar and percussion are added on top.

Musically, this is a very nice effect and makes his instrumentation very entertaining and fun to listen to, most notably in songs like "3 Handed Blues," "3 Handed Dreams," his own take on "The Star Spangled Banner," "Two Handed Dreams (of the Little Guitar)" and "The Dusty Old Freight Train."

On these tracks there are very beautiful arrangements of guitar and percussion, and Cohen has added a nice experimental jazz feel to the music. In fact, throughout the album, you can really hear his excellent use of these tools.

Where this album seems to falter, however, is in some of the lyrical arrangements. In most cases, the words don't really seem to serve the music, instead adding a distracting note to otherwise a nice piece. In some cases, like in "Grandfather" and "Rain, Rain, Rain," they seem out of place, as if they were added in just because.

This is not always the case, however. In the before mentioned "The Dusty Old Freight Train." Cohen's words and voice go a long way toward getting the feeling of an old train across.

And, in "Let's All Root for the Home Team," he does a good job of painting the picture of a local basketball scene. However, the same lyrics do carry on too long and have unusual pauses and breaks, making the song seem to drag a little.

Over all, Stephen Cohen is a great musician, and I'd be interested in hearing more instrumental work.

[ by Charlie Gebetsberger ]