Sara Jarosz (Photo courtesy Michael J. Media Group)
At Warner Theatre in DC, the recent performance by singer-songwriters Shawn Colvin, Marc Cohn, and Sarah Jarosz was bittersweet. As Marc explained, the plan had originally been for him and Shawn to tour with David Crosby. But then the Covid epidemic happened, and, meanwhile, Croz was struggling with increasing health problems, and officially retired from touring. And then, last month, he passed away.
Early in their careers, Croz became an enthusiastic supporter of both Cohn and Colvin, as well as a lifelong friend. Cohn shared an email Croz sent him about a year ago, in which he wrote, “We have A gift. We can make music. We can sing and play. And we can do it well.” In the midst of all the turmoil in the world, “We can make things better for a shitload of people.”
As all the performers mentioned, Croz swore like a sailor, and was unfailingly blunt and honest, so that, as Jarosz said, “When he complimented you, it really meant something,” For all his prickliness, though, Croz was a dreamer and an idealist, and he ended his email to Marc by encouraging him to “get cracking,” to write more songs and to make another album.
Sarah Jarosz, who released her first album, Build Me Up From Bones, while still a teenager, also became a favorite of Croz’s. She provided vocals for one of his late albums — Croz distinguished himself by releasing several excellent albums in the last decade of his life, at a time when many artists have slowed down, or even stopped making new material. But, because of Covid, it had to be done remotely. However, two weeks after she released Blue Heron Suite in 2021, she visited Croz at his home in Santa Barbara while she was on tour. They had lunch, then Croz took her to a secluded beach where, poetically, a blue heron landed just feet away from them. In his inimitable fashion, Croz declared, “I made that happen! That was all me!”
Stream Build Me Up from Bones by Sarah Jarosz on Spotify:
While there’s a bitterness in grieving for the memory of their friend, and for a musician whose body of work was beloved by so many, there was a sweetness to this show as well. Just as Croz used his stature to lift up younger artists, Cohn and Colvin are paying it forward, too, by joining with Jarosz, who is at the forefront of the next generation of musicians.
The shared performances at the Warner on Feb. 19 constituted a lovely evening, filled with beautiful songs and stories, beginning with all three artists singing Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” to open the show. Cohn then took over with “Old Soldier,” written for and recorded by Croz. Shawn went next, and spoke about her own relationship with David, telling the audience that the prospect of writing for him was “too scary.” Hearing Shawn say this was actually comforting; she’s a master songwriter with the awards and acclaim to prove it, and even she struggles at times. She shared a new song, which makes me hopeful we might get another album in the near future.
Perhaps the best anecdote of the even came as Sarah introduced her next song by talking about the time she left the stage and found Croz waiting for her in the dressing room. She then told the lovely story about her day with him and played “Morning” from Blue Heron Suite.
This wasn’t quite a songwriters in the round show; the three artists accompanied each other, instrumentally and on vocals. Jarosz sung and played the introduction on guitar to Marc’s “Silver Thunderbird,” then he took over on the piano, which he played most of the evening, occasionally switching to guitar. In addition to her fine songwriting and singing, Sarah is also a highly accomplished multi-instrumentalist, lending her mandolin playing to the “epic riff” of Colvin’s biggest, “Sunny Came Home.”
Speaking of “Sunny,” Shawn introduced the song by talking about her tour with Steve Earle (who she called “amazing”), several years ago now. Steve told her, “You’ve written the ultimate breakup,” song, to which she replied, “Why?” Shawn continued, “He looked at me like I was unwell –” Steve has a very distinctive gaze, which I have experienced personally — “and said, ‘Because it’s a fuckin’ murder ballad.'” In retrospect, it’s unlikely that a song about burning someone to death experienced such popularity, but hey, the ’90s were a weird time.
Watch the official music video for “Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin on YouTube:
But “Sunny,” wouldn’t come until later in the show, and Shawn followed Marc’s “Silver Thunderbird” with “Shotgun Down The Avalanche,” which appeared on her debut album, Steady On, which won a Grammy for Best Folk Album. She told the audience, “We’re not going to have as much fun on this song,” and she called it “a good winter song,” though, with its snow imagery, it didn’t really match the unusually warm winter we’re having in the Mid-Atlantic. (As I write this, I am getting ready to go meet a friend for an afternoon hike, as the temperature today, with just more than a month left in winter, is going to reach the low 60s.
All three artists have worked extensively with John Leventhal, who has produced and played on their albums and co-written songs with them. It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide anything like an exhaustive list of his collaborations, but Sarah specifically mentioned she co-wrote her next song, “Orange and Blue,” with him.
Marc and I have some common elements in our background, though separated by decades: He was born and raised in the heavily-Jewish Cleveland suburb of Beachwood Heights. Though not born in Ohio, my family moved to the Akron suburbs when I was five years old. Marc started college at Oberlin, later transferring to UCLA; I transferred into to Oberlin after spending my freshman year at Michigan. I mention this because, in his song, “Perfect Love,” he references landmark in northeast Ohio, like Shaker Lake (in the also heavily-Jewish Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights). “Perfect love is about his brother, Warren’s, 57-year marriage, which contrasts with Marc being “two months into my third marriage.” Warren has told Marc that he thinks he’s idealized that marriage, saying that, rather than “perfect,” it’s been an “enduring love.”
Up next, Shawn someone, “someone has to be the cynic.” She then shared the story I’ve mentioned about Steve Earle, and Jarsoz joined her on mandolin for “Sunny Came Home.” Sarah followed with the title cut of her 2013 album, Build Me Up From Bones, then Marc played “Walk Through The World.”
Watch the official music video for “Walk Through the World” by Marc Cohn on YouTube:
Introducing her next song, Shawn spoke of some of the challenges of songwriting, and of her difficulty, sometimes, with finishing songs. When she was making These Four Walls, she was in New York, and scheduled to be in the studio the next morning, but hadn’t completed a composition. Being the procrastinator that almost all writers are, rather than working on the song the night before, she turned on the TV and found a documentary about Martin Luther King on PBS. The next morning, in the studio, she engaged in what she called “singing in tongues,” in which she exudes a lot of nonsense until words come out. Eventually, the words came out, inspired by the documentary, and she recorded “Don’t Worry Me Now.”
The show was starting to wind down, and Sarah played a cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” followed by Marc’s biggest hit, “Walking in Memphis.” He told the story of how, in 1985, he met Muriel Davis Wilkins, a schoolteacher in Memphis who sang a few nights a week to earn to extra money for her family. One night, she invited him to sing with her, which was a challenge, because her repertoire consisted of Gospel classics, which, unsurprisingly, are not exactly the wheelhouse of a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland. But they made it work, and, afterwords, Muriel said to Marc, “I think you’re ready to write those songs now.” Though releasing his first album was still many years away, over the next several months he wrote many of the songs that appeared on it.
Shawn took the final solo performance with “Diamond In The Rough,” and all three sanger Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Me Lonesome When You Go” together to close out the main set. When they returned for an encore, Marc said they wanted to cover one of Croz’s songs, but many of them are difficult — difficult tunings, difficult melodies. They settled on singing “The Lee Shore,” which he co-wrote with is longtime friend, Graham Nash. To close the show, they covered Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” to send the audience home on a high note.