Do you remember the good old days? Being a relatively young man, I actually don’t. But Tim Cohen seems like he might. Cohen is the mind behind Magic Trick, the San Francisco outfit that just released their third album, River of Souls.
Of course, “good old days” is a fallacy bordering on farce. Specifically, the late 60s weren’t exactly a picnic if you were, say, a woman or minority. But we did get some pretty decent music out of the time and Cohen does his best to try to harken back to that sound. At times it feels like he’s reaching to the roots of every constituent member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young in order to create an inoffensive facsimile of a classic rock sound. “The Store” is a blues rock number that is reminiscent of The Hollies, while “Crazy Teeth” tries to pass for the Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds. Even “Bridge of Gold” opens up with same melancholy of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Cohen is barely hiding his intentions at this point.
But in this so-called River of Souls, Cohen finds himself little able to utilize his own. His lyrics are stodgy and uninspired. They seem all too paint-by-numbers to rival any of the figures he evokes in his music. In the shuffle ballad “You Have To Do,” he uses the repeated phrase “a [adjective] man would…” that is borderline cringe-worthy. Cohen’s lines form the song “Crazy Teeth,” “I like pretty girls as much as the next man does/but they don’t do nothing for me/all their silly words and pledges of empty love/now they’re just something to see,” have the unique quality of being pretty blatantly sexist while also being corny.
Magic Trick sounds like the band your dad or uncle or somebody tries to tell you was “just as good as The Hollies/Zombies/Byrds, except they never got as big.” But there’s a reason The Hollies/Zombies/Byrds were who they were and those other bands weren’t. They had the sound and the feeling necessary to go with it. Magic Trick is as much of an empty façade as its name implies.