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Hannah Cohen has arrived home. From the title of her new album to the depth and beauty of the music, the Woodstock, NY-based singer-songwriter’s third album, Welcome Home, displays a new level of confidence and comfort with the many creative tools at her disposal. Cohen’s remarkably evocative voice is surrounded by dreamy, swooning incantations, from the rippling ‘This Is Your Life’ and the slow-burning, forthright statement of ‘All I Want,’ to the soul swagger of ‘Get in Line’ and dramatic vocal leaps of ‘Wasting My Time.’
With Welcome Home, “I don’t feel I have to cover up anything, or not be able to share,” Cohen says. “There’s less to interpret, I’m more visible. And as to reflecting on the past when things didn’t go well, I’ve left that behind. It was all worth it, to make my way to this point.”
Produced by Cohen’s partner Sam Owens, the producer/writer who performs as Sam Evian, the artist began developing the material that became Welcome Home in 2017. Taking her time with the songs, she wrapped herself in the fulfilling quiet of a new home, and a new creative partnership that supported finding a clarity in her writing and vocals. Many of the songs were written on an old, nylon-string guitar painted with Hawaiian scenes of beaches and palm trees (which can be heard on ‘This Is Your Life’), that, no matter the final arrangement, gives the songs a lighter touch, a warming glow that suffuses the whole album. Listeners may find echoes of folk and R&B, radiating with vocal-powered pop production, electronic accents, and bursts of pulsing guitar/bass/drums energy. Irresistible echoes of soul enchanters such as Carrie Cleveland (an early touchstone for Cohen and Evian), Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and their friend and sometime collaborator Nick Hakim blend with the reflective shadings of singer/writer forebears such as Carole King and Harry Nilsson.
Welcome Home is almost brutally honest in its self-examination, as Cohen couches home truths in velvet-lush settings. As she explains, “A lot of the album is about checking in with reality and taking the wheel, being honest with myself and my intentions. Being transparent as much as possible. They’re about exploring why I’m here. And the songs question love - if it’s real or something else, finding love that’s healthy, mature and supportive.”
All of Cohen’s new material was crafted in Brooklyn except ‘Big House,’ which was written in an isolated stone farmhouse in upstate New York where they sometimes recorded, preserving the intimacy at the core of Welcome Home. The album was mostly tracked with a live rhythm section: bassist Brian Betancourt (from Evian’s live band) and drummer Vishal Nayak (Nick Hakim). Says Cohen, “We wanted to capture the essence of the song, quickly, and not toil over details for two years.”
That straightforward immediacy marked an important change in Cohen’s relationship with her music and the recording process. After growing up around professional musicians, she moved to New York from the Bay Area at 17, an intrepid adventurer who was drawn to New York’s singer-songwriter world. “New York became my world and my community, and formed me as a person, though I have never felt settled here until the last two years.” Her first two albums, Child Bride and Pleasure Boy, document the sound of a young artist finding her feet on a stage populated by established performers, a very public evolution toward the lived-in experience and command of Welcome Home. The desire to live on her own terms has recently led her to the less-crowded vistas of Woodstock, NY, a no-less iconic musical destination.
‘Old Bruiser’ documents that feeling of escape, specifically a west coast road trip (“Made it back to the city by daylight and we turned to each other as if to ask why /did we make something special just to go and leave it all behind?”). ‘Build Me Up’ also reflects Cohen’s desire to move: “Living in the city has such extreme effects on your body, your nervous system, the constant grind, living on top of people and never really having any true personal space. I am naturally a very sensitive person, I feel a lot of energy and people are really intense in NYC. I have been inspired by that energy but after fifteen years it became exhausting trying to keep up with the grind and hustle. I wanted a change of scenery and a new pace. It was hard to let go after putting so much time and work into building my life and community, and in a way I went from one extreme to another. But I felt I needed to make a big move to break free from all the noise. Welcome Home chronicles my last year in New York City before moving on. Onward and upwards.”
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