Magic Trick is the recording project of singer/songwriter Tim Cohen, featuring a rotating cast of collaborators and friends. And if you’ve been frequenting this site for some time, you might recall that I wrote about two singles of Cohen and Company’s third full-length album River of Souls, an effort that at points reminded me quite a bit of Flowers-era Echo and the Bunnymen. Cohen’s fourth Magic Trick album Other Man’s Blues reportedly found the renowned singer/songwriter at a crossroads as it was written and recorded during a year that was split between two completely different lives and world — part of the year with his partner and their newborn daughter, the second part was as a touring musician, touring with Magic Trick and the Fresh & Onlys, and the week he spent recording Other Man’s Blues at Phil Manley‘s Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco.
As the story goes, Cohen arrived at the studio with a color-coded composition book of songs he had been writing while bouncing to and fro, and the book would have to suffice in lieu of rehearsal time with the 13 musicians — including James Kim (drums), Beach House‘s James Barone, The Aislers Set’s Alicia Van Heuval and Paul Garcia splitting time on bass, Once and Future Band‘s and Danny James‘ Joel Robinow on keys, The Cairo Gang and The Muggers‘ Emmett Kelly (guitar), backing vocals from Van Heuval, Noelle Cahill and Anna Hillburg, who also plays trumpet, as well as San Francisco-based musicians Dylan, Edrich, Tom Heyman, and Marc Capelle. And although some may think that with such a large roster of musicians, that the sessions were the product of grandiose ambition; but actually, the sessions were the result of an open door policy at the studio in which, friends would stop by, hang out, drink tequila, bullshit and jam together, creating a loose, freewheeling, improvised affair in which the songs were shaped by the session players — and the material reportedly manages to shift from baroque pop, post-punk, R&B, jam rock paired with Tim’s lyrics about family, himself, his experiences and thoughts about being a father and a musician, about life and its perpetual changes.
The album’s latest single “First Thought” is a shuffling and twangy country blues that sounds as though it could have been released sometime between 1972-1975 while gently nodding at psych rock and gospel with an extended jam band coda featuring an impressive guitar solo. And what makes the song impressive is the fact that Cohen and Company manage to make the song feel both completely improvised, as though a bunch of friends were jamming late night over whiskey, tequila and weed, while the song possess a careful attention to craft. Lyrically, the song deals with self-doubt, uncertainty and acceptance but with a wry, mischievous wit, revealing that Cohen is an unheralded songwriter.