Adam Cohen, live in London

Canadian singer-songwriter charms an invite-only crowd at low-key album showcase

TODO alt text

Adam Cohen rolled into Soho to preview his forthcoming fifth album We Go Home for a select music industry audience. Here's five things we learned watching him work the room.

Adversity brings out the best from true professionals

Adam Cohen is just one song into this intimate showcase when technical gremlins leave his producer/collaborator Don Miguel prodding at a mute keyboard with a pained expression. As a tech frantically seeks to restore sound, Cohen turns to Miguel and says “You know what? We could say ‘Fuck it’ and just sing…” And that’s just what the pair, aided and abetted by guitarist Trish Robb, do, harmonising beautifully as a hush falls upon the room. It’s hardly an ideal start to a gig arranged to introduce movers and shakers from the media to Cohen’s forthcoming fifth album We Go Home, but the grace and charm with which the 41-year-old singer/songwriter handles the situation ensures that he holds his audience in the palm of his hand for the ensuing 40 minutes.

Simplicity can be a beautiful thing

The first words Cohen utters onstage tonight are “Can we turn up the crickets?” And as gentle chirping sounds fill the air, this gritty Soho rock n’ roll bolthole is suffused with an air of bucolic charm. It’s a sweet, simple and effective way to generate an appropriate atmosphere in which to preface the songs from We Go Home, which was written and recorded in Cohen’s various childhood homes, from the Greek island of Hydra to Montreal. The same affecting simplicity runs through the core of the album, and rendered in stripped down form here, Cohen’s soulful meditations upon life, love and loss are given ample space to breathe. It’s hard not to be impressed.

There’s a hint of the Devil in Adam Cohen

Before airing his new album’s title track, Cohen tells a little anecdote from his childhood which involves his mother quoting Marilyn Monroe to ask her flustered son whether he thought it might be true that men are better lovers with their wives when they’re seeking to mask infidelity. We Go Home is a song which touches upon illicit passions and forbidden desires, and when Cohen sings the subtly X-rated lyric “I know, I know I’m not supposed to think about you, I know I know, act natural around you, I know I’m not supposed to think of your thirsty rose” there’s a definite twinkle in his eye. A father and family man now, we suspect the man has broken a heart or two in his time.

In the right hands, the very worst songs can take on a new lustre

Towards the end of his set, Cohen reveals that his bandmates share a guilty secret, namely an inexplicable love of UK garage star turned Bo’ Selecta punching bag Craig David. The point of this curious little anecdote becomes clear when, towards the end of Love Is - a gorgeously understated song which drifts along on finger clicks, hand claps and sweet hymnal harmonies - the singer suddenly segues into David’s global hit 7 Days. Remarkably, it sounds rather fine in this format. But let’s not encourage this sort of behaviour, shall we?

Adam Cohen’s old man must surely be proud of him

You might just have heard of Adam Cohen’s father, the great Leonard Cohen. Rather than attempt to hide his lineage, Cohen embraces and celebrates his papa on more than one occasion, proudly telling how one of Leonard’s dinner table stories inspired one of We Go Home’s stand-out tracks Put Your Bags Down. Cohen junior might not have a heart-stopping tune on a par with Hallelujah in his repertoire, but frankly, who has? On this evidence, Leonard’s boy is going to do just fine carving out his own place in history.