Reviews of the Love Songs
of Dario Cohen
Reviewed by Dean Landew
"The Love Songs of Dario Cohen" is a dramatically hushed yet grandly ambitious album. Dario wants to seduce you with his whispery baritone and the velvety instrumentation and muted colors that his first-rate crew of musicians and vocalists serve up, and he succeeds. In so doing, he makes a case for himself as a potential member of the Great Jewish Rock and Roll Songwriters Club, whose members include such luminaries as Leonard Cohen (but without the existentialist death rattle), Randy Newman (but without the lacerating sarcasm and irony) and Neil Diamond (but without the schmaltzy Elvis-isms). Only time will tell if he succeeds in this regard.
What I can say is this: there’s a lot going on here, musically and lyrically, and the album doesn’t reveal its secrets immediately. This is the work of a mature and sophisticated writer and musician who is still evolving, who has lived and loved and lost, and who’s changing moods reflect his complexity. The album’s depth and emotional impact is there for those who seek it, and the patient listener will be rewarded with an understanding of its layers of meaning, starting with its deceptively simple and seemingly straightforward title.
If You Have to Go:
This is the album opener, and it is stunning. It begins with an atmospheric organ chord swirling softly for a few seconds. A trumpet then plays a haunting minor-key solo for a full minute, underpinned by a lightly strummed acoustic guitar. Dario doesn’t make his entrance until well over a minute, but what an entrance it is. His voice is barely audible but instantly hypnotic. The vocals are so dialed down that you may have to put on headphones to hear them, but even if you can’t make out every word, the mood is spellbinding. It’s a masterpiece of orchestration and understatement, and a thing of real beauty. Someone is breaking his heart, and it seems he can barely get the words out in response.
Your Fan Club:
The mood shifts to a major key. Against a gauzy background of acoustic guitar, he tries to assure someone, perhaps his wife, that she can put her trust in him. This raises the unanswered question of what led up to this scene.
No angst here. Just a gentle declaration of Dario’s love for his woman, built on a foundation of light percussion, vocal harmonies, and a jazzy electric piano.
The Sound of Lonesome:
Piano, organ and rolling tom-toms provide a dreamy backdrop for this enigmatic tale of two lonely strangers at a late-night bar.
Now I Know the Blues:
A curveball. Musically, this is the most upbeat song on the album. It actually swings, complete with handclaps, like a restrained and jazzier version of Booker T and the MGs, with the addition of an unexpected flute that riffs throughout, but the lively musical accompaniment belies the stark reality that Dario addresses head on: “I used to do a lot of things I don’t do anymore, because I just can’t.”
Hold Me When the World:
His perspective moves from his heart to his bank account. Economic pressures have got him worried, but as the song concludes, he reaches for a positive way out: “Let them throw whatever they got.” The flute once again dominates, but this time, it’s far more restrained, suggesting that all may not end well.
The Love of the Hurt:
How’s this for a devastating couplet: “Happiness proved too elusive/And torture felt just right/Working out our issues/Every fuckin’ night.” But it’s sung so softly, that you might not even hear it. In addition, Dario sweetens the bitterness with another upbeat and jazzy instrumental track that recalls 1970s rhythm and blues.
If You Want Me to Love You:
A melancholy flute line weaves its way through this snapshot of a woman who wants to take Dario away from his woman. His response: “She’s a saint, she’s a goddess, she’s a golden girl.” Yet the mood of the song expresses a tone of regret.
With stately piano chords, a lovely acoustic guitar line, and some gorgeous harmony singing, the album closes on a somber note, about the state of our country. Dario is back at that late-night bar, contemplating the world. He names no names, and the song is not overtly political, but he seems saddened and provides no solutions for these uncertain times. The song ends on a beautifully ambiguous chord.
"The Love Songs of Dario Cohen" is a bold, serious and highly personal statement from a real artist.
Reviewed by Brian Taylor
What a great collection of love songs! Dario Cohen offers himself as I know him to be - generous and authentic. It’s a mature album from a man who knows himself. He really put himself out there with confidence and vulnerability - a powerful combination.
Dario sets a relaxed pace, a gentle touch. He takes his time. He’s quiet, subtle. But there’s always a groove - hard-wired from years of playing rock, gospel, and R&B - that brings momentum and urgency.
To me, a clean album like this is always a relief, when every part can be heard clearly, whether the song is spare or lush. Dario doesn’t overdo; he strips away the noise so it stays true. He changes up style, instrumentation, and arrangement, so it stays fresh for me, even surprising.
Dario’s songs are all about grown-up emotions: respect, loneliness, passion, regret, wry humor, pain, delight, affection. They make me feel known, because I’ve been there too.
Reviewed by Kurt Eger
Firstly, it is impressive the way in which the “The Love Songs Of Dario Cohen” (TLSODC) holds together musically, sonically, thematically. These are songs and confessions of a man who is world-hardened and refined, who has lived, experienced joys and sorrows. This is evident in his vocal delivery. The Spanish guitar (nylon strings to the uniniiated) is a key writing partner and the foundational instrument on these songs. Anyone that’s been listening to “pop” since the ‘70s will hear echoes of Aja or The Nightfly in the songs. I appreciate how the “middle-aged” voice juxtaposes the twenty-something female background voices so the music always remains young and fresh even while the topic material is mature. His voice throughout could be compared to Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits, but Dario’s voice has a tenderness & caring that the aforementioned singers never really demonstrated- vulnerable, but not aloof in their delivery.
If You Have To Go:
I am such a sucker for the sentimental- this one oozes it, I absolutely love the fluegelhorn intro beautifully played by Chicago jazz great, Victor Garcia-so sweet. And the minor 7th and minor 9th chords. Beautiful opener and sets the tone for everything to follow.
Your Fan Club:
This is a lucky woman that has a song like this penned for her. Kicking off with drummer Neal Wehman’s Steve Gadd inspired- “50 Ways” intro (nice!) and the one to the two-major chord progression (hold the 7 in the bass), one of my favourite changes. Check out the way he sings “maybe a little TLC or maybe more”, followed by the sexy blues riff on the nylon string and then a little growl ala Barry White.
Again, the woman who inspired this should smile daily. I was cruising up I-65 heading toward Vanderbilt, this is a great high-speed driving song and it gave me the same feeling I had listening to Breezin’ back in the day. Beautiful Fender Rhodes, played by Paul Mutzabaugh(keys throughout), riffing over the diminished chords Auto-tune is eschewed throughout the record. Maybe, there were a few spots it might have been used it, but as we know from pre-auto-era recordings,perfect pitch is not always “perfect”.
The Sound Of Lonesome:
I see the artist walking down a frigid Chicago Street at 2AM. Beautifully evocative of late nights in a big city..
Now I Know The Blues:
For this reviewer is the record’s zenith. With a lyrical co-write assist from Rocky Maffit (http://rockymaffit.com) “But they don’t look back at me like when I was 23”- great line. ha, how true! Making light of getting older. “Bonnie had a Clyde”- excellent image. This is a fun song throughout. Terrific flute by another Chicago jazz giant, Steve Eisen. The track ends with a full-out, stomping, clapping, singing gospel choir (compliments of the amazing Rena Day Himick).
Hold Me When The World:
Flute and Hammond play intro line together, nice. Wurlitzer piano? Dario, takes a rare solo. Cool.
Love Of The Hurt:
I always appreciate when I hear a rhyme that I haven’t heard before: discern and learn. Otherwise the tune glides along- and also to hear a well-placed curse word and not be offended, well done.
If You Want Me To Love You:
Nice groove throughout, it’s important and helpful to have a good co-producer to keep a project on track. Besides a sterling job on the engineering side, Dario identified in Fred Breitberg, a major ally in bringing his concept to fruition.
Curiously, probably my favourite track- I am attracted to the desperate, the lonely, the hopeless. The opening horn triplets push, taunt and prod. “Truths get roughed up like a cheap whore” is a strong image. And the girls really shine here(apparently “girls” again, equals the amazing & multi-tracked Rena Day Himick”). I like the way the song unravels at the end- it gives the listener the sense that the “story” is not finished.
Reviewed by Mike Howie
You’ve had those moments. You grab a corner spot at the pub. Someone grabs the next chair and you two, strangers really, begin a conversation that takes you right up to closing time. It’s not so much that you agree on everything as much as it is a whole raft of ideas for you to sift through.
That’s exactly the kind of pleasure you’ll get from The Love Songs of Dario Cohen. The record invites you in, welcomes you to all of its layers -- the instrumentation, the vocal phrasing, the backup singers. The lyrics, for goodness’ sake: smart conversation, evocative, wry and subtle. It won't make you think as much as it will invite you to.
Dario’s voice sounds great throughout and the lyrics are smart and emotive. The music is well-played & arranged. The backup vocalists (mostly a multi-tracked Rena Day Himick) add to the music without calling attention to their parts. I was really struck by how subtle Dario is with his vocal tone, phrasing and dynamic, all beautifully captured by Chicago studio legend, Freddie Breitberg.
Dario enlisted some of the greats of the Chicago jazz scene to help record these songs. A good choice. I love the jazz influence. I was thinking how would I categorize this album? And the closest I could come was the first Al Kooper helmed Blood Sweat & Tears LP, “Child Is the Father to Man”. The record’s jazz-infused approach works very well. And there are so many moments where either Dario’s guitar or one of the other instruments adds a punctuation mark to a lyric or a phrase. And by the way, for those who delight in all things guitar, the guitar playing is superb. This reviewer was struck again & again, with how put together the album feels. Like everything is there for a reason. Nothing is filler.
I said it earlier, but it is worth repeating, this is smart writing.
Some things are pretty great the first time. Some things get even better the next time. The Love Songs of Dario Cohen is like that. Great stuff, start to finish.
Reviewed by Rocky Maffit
The Love Songs of Dario Cohen feels like a song cycle about, what else, love. It is lush and spare at the same time. Its intimacy comes from the confessional quality of the lyrics as well as where the lead vocal is placed in the context of the rich jazz influenced orchestration.
There are echoes here. Imagine Leonard Cohen singing with Pat Metheny. Burt Bacharach comes to mind as well, particularly in the beautiful accompanying vocals of Rena Himick. Her voice is smooth and polished while his is rough-hewn. She is often singing in the near distance while his voice, dry as sand, is sing-speaking of love and joy through weariness.
It is rewarding to listen closely as there is a lot of detail in the recording but it doesn’t feel fussy. This is music for grown-ups. It could only be composed (and sung) by someone who has really lived. It is a very hopeful album about the deep pleasures of loving someone for a long time—and never giving up.
Reviewed by M.S. Dodds
One of the changes the iPod wrought (among many) was that the listener could take individual songs and use them, in whatever order, to create a soundtrack to their life. Musicians who had grown used to creating “the concept album,” now found their concepts trampled on or, worse, ignored. Artists responded by releasing CDs that were simply a collection of songs or, alternately, a concept so tight that it damn near dared the listener to try to separate the songs. Few artists bothered – or, maybe, were able - to successfully create an album that worked in both whole and parts.
The Love Songs of Dario Cohen does just that. Successfully.
This undeniably sophisticated and emotionally nuanced album is about love in its kaleidoscopic shadings. There’s the young, bubbling, rose-coloured blush of new in “Incredible”; the weary dysfunction of “Love of the Hurt”; the mature romance of “Your Fan Club.” Loss, need, temptation – its all here. And like love itself, this album is grand, compelling, exciting.
Cohen is above all a songwriter, and the album is collection of strong songs. Even so, the record is bracketed by two standouts. The lush opener “If You Have to Go” lays out a musical and emotional landscape that runs through the album. It ends with the seething fury that underlies “Drunk.” Lines such as “So raise your glass to nothing” which beg to be sung with despair and ennui are instead sung by Cohen and Rena Day with a searing intensity that evokes love every bit as much as the gentler, more mournful opening track.
For finally TLCODC is an album unified by passion. Quiet, burning, embarrassing, frightening, new, hurt, blind, liberating – passion bursts from each song and lifts the album into a realm rarely reached by new artists. It’s a remarkable achievement. And even if we aren’t lucky enough to have such passion in our lives, we can at least have it as the soundtrack.
– M. S. Dodds