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Empty Cellar is proud to release the newest album by Magic Trick, Other Man’s Blues. This offering from the band finds songwriter, Tim Cohen at a crossroads. It was written and recorded during a year that split his time between two lives, in two worlds. The newer of these was on a horse ranch in the northern Arizona desert where he and his partner spent their first year with their newborn daughter. The second of these two was the music world. The latter took place on the road, on tour with Magic Trick or with the Fresh & Onlys. And in the case of Other Man’s Blues, it took place for one week at Phil Manley’s Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco.
Tim arrived at the studio with a color-coded composition book of songs he’d been writing while bouncing to and fro. This book would have to suffice in lieu of rehearsal time with the 13 other musicians who appear on the tracks. About half of the tracks feature James Kim on drums, the other half James Barone (Beach House). Alicia Van Heuvel (Aislers Set) and Paul Garcia split time on bass. Joel Robinow (Once and Future Band / Danny James) contributes on keys. Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang / The Muggers) provides a couple stunning guitar solos. There are omnipresent vocal harmonies from Alicia, Noelle Cahill and Anna Hillburg, the latter of whom also plays some trumpet. San Francisco standbys Dylan Edrich, Tom Heyman, and Marc Capelle all contribute. It was a loose, largely improvised affair.
The album’s roster is less the product of grand ambition, and more the result of an open-door policy at the studio. These sessions also served as an opportunity for Tim to hang out with friends while in town. He’d see who was around, they’d swing by. Allegedly tequila was centrally involved. A “hit the joint and come up with a bit” approach. “Here’s a chord chart. Go.” And guest appearances are more than just a little icing on top here. It’s the principle that warranted giving this project a band name five years ago: when Tim’s non-onlys oeuvre stopped being credited to Tim Cohen and instead was attributed to Magic Trick. Especially in the case of Other Man’s Blues, the players on the album define what shapes these songs take.
And it’s a wide variety of shapes you’ll find on this album. Take this less as a conscious display of versatility (although it does demonstrate Cohen & Co.’s ability to shape-shift) and more as a result of the freewheeling, haphazard recording environment described above. A ghostly choir of female voices open the album like a seance. And the spirit they conjure proceeds to flit about over the course of the ensuing ten tracks, animating various stylistic forms, from the baroque pop of “Forest of Kates” to the icy post-punk of “I Held the Ring.” There’s the air-tight R&B groove of “Startling Chimes,” the krauty “Purest Thing,” a jammy side-to-side trot that moves “First Thought” along, taking a detour into country before culminating in a glorious Grateful Dead indebted coda. But throughout, it’s Tim’s lyrics that are pushed to the front of the mix. This album is a display of solid songwriting – collectively fleshed out, but from Tim’s composition book, and with Tim’s lyrics about family and about himself. These songs are the sound of his friends helping him suss through the conflicts of his new dual existence as father and musician, between old self and new.
Magic Trick’s 2013 offering, River of Souls, opens with Cohen asking, “Should we live from the mirrors other side?” Maybe, what you have here onOther Man’s Blues is an attempt to do just that. You can hear that his scope is widening, is being forced to widen by his circumstance. These songs are full of empathy. They reckon with notions of sacrifice and devotion, acknowledge the “winds of desire” and admit that “musings come from below” like a force of nature. Our protagonist is mid-transformation or maybe even pre-transformation. He is able to “regard his gruesome self” only because he is becoming a new man. Both sides are present. Which is the Other Man? Who is Tim Cohen? What is this magic he is trying pull off? Is it a trick? Or true sorcery? Either way, he must evolve.
Other Man’s Blues
Empty Cellar Records
[Pre-order here] Street Date: August 26, 2016