BARENAKED LADIES "Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan" (Shout! Factory) 3 stars
Recorded live at DTE Energy Music Theatre in June, "Talk to the Hand" is a sweet showcase for funny and smart Canadian alternative rock band Barenaked Ladies, which consistently draws big, devoted crowds in the Detroit area and loves to play here.
Smarter-than-thou folk may dismiss BNL as an insubstantial comedy act whose shtick is aimed at drunken college kids, but that's their misconception and loss. Yep, there is typically more humor in one Barenaked song than you'll find in Radiohead's entire catalog, but listen harder and you'll hear a quintet with a keen feel for pop hooks and melodies and a deep desire to - gasp - entertain and engage an audience.
Before an enthralled DTE crowd of 15,000, BNL delivers spirited versions of all its hits, including "One Week," "Be My Yoko Ono," "Pinch Me," "If I Had $1000000" and "The Old Apartment." Both the band and the screaming hordes sound as if they're having an absolute blast, and the band's trademark stage patter is on full display. BNL's more recent, lesser-known material also impresses, especially "Adrift," originally from 2006 studio release "Barenaked Ladies Are Me." Both this one and "For You," which was on "Everything to Everyone" in 2003, have more of an acoustic feel and reveal the band's reflective, even poignant, side.
Guitarists Ed Robertson and Stephen Page split lead vocal duties as usual, and when one does harmonies with the other, the results are so tight you'd swear they're brothers. Too many live albums have too much room reverb and songs played too fast, but happily that's not the case here. The Ladies take their time and don't rush through the material, and the recording is surprisingly crisp-sounding, considering how boom-y the DTE acoustics can be.
The companion DVD included in this package has the same track list as the CD, but also includes some backstage footage along with a sound check version of "Angry People." The DVD also is available as a stand-alone release. Nice, too, is the environmentally friendly packaging. It's a serious move by a funny band.
MARC COHN "Join the Parade" (Decca) 3 stars
A personal crisis and a national tragedy were the unlikely events that helped Marc Cohn overcome a severe case of writer's block and pave the way for "Join the Parade."
First was the fateful evening of Aug. 7, 2005, when Cohn was shot in the head during an attempted carjacking after a gig in Denver. He miraculously had only minor physical injuries and walked out of the hospital the next day.
While struggling at home in New York a few weeks later with post-traumatic stress disorder, he watched helplessly while Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans.
Being a witness to life's fragility in these two ways somehow flipped Cohn's songwriting switch back on and has resulted in one of his most soulful, spiritual and deeply personal recordings.
On the powerful "Live Out the String" Cohn recalls the shooting that could have easily killed him 2 years ago and ponders, "Maybe life is curious to see what you would do with the gift of being left alive." Backed by Bob Dylan's former guitarist Charlie Sexton and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Cohn cautiously adopts a glass-half-full philosophy and declares: "Raise your voice and make a joyful noise/Ain't no guarantee of anything/Live out the string."