Tim Cohen, member of San Franciscan garagey jangle pop band Fresh & Onlys, had a long-standing moonlighting gig with his solo project Magic Trick by the time of third album River of Souls. In addition to the prolific output and consistent evolution of his main band, Cohen moved through various phases with Magic Trick, coming out of the obscured vocals and blanched songcraft of early albums with a clearer and more direct approach with the ten songs that make up River of Souls. Understated country-dusted indie pop is the baseline for most of the songs here, but Cohen and company treat each tune with both sincere sweetness and subtle production touches, resulting in an unexpectedly charming listening experience.
Backup singers can really impact the DNA of a song, and not always for the better. Take Lefty Frizzell’s 1950 classic “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time”. In its original format, it was a bare bones country standard typical of the Grand Ole Opry’s golden age: fiddle, pedal steel, Lefty’s voice, and not much else. Then, in 1959, he released a new, re-recorded version of the song on The One and Only Lefty Frizzell.
Tim Cohen’s appreciation for girls with little imperfections (“I like the ones with the crazy teeth, the crooked things they say to me”) echoes his decades-long obsession with compositions pockmarked by blemishes. The popularity of Cohen’s main project, The Fresh & Onlys, seems to validate the value of sound weathered by cheap recording equipment while also striking an argument for the importance of melody, whether upfront or subsumed by muck. However, the most recent Onlys record, Long Slow Dance, felt extremely shot-out to these ears.
Magic Trick — River of Souls (Empty Cellar)Both in his Fresh & Onlys project and here in the solo-thing-that-grew called Magic Trick, Tim Cohen has been moving gradually towards clarity, shrugging off the iridescent fuzz of Grey Eyed Girls and the home-taped indefiniteness of his first solo album to move into focus. Here in the follow up to 2012’s Ruler of the Night, Cohen continues to make his sound more legible than ever, while retaining the easy-going, transcendental mysticism that has always made his songs so charming.Cohen recorded River of Souls at his own Tree House studio with Phil Manley. Manley is a master of clean, uncluttered recording.