It’s a miracle Work to Do actually works.
The album pairs a white, late-middle-aged Jew (Marc Cohn) with a group of black, elderly Christians (the Blind Boys of Alabama). It links three studio recordings with with seven live tracks, finds the co-billed stars performing alone and together and the result is – miraculously – seamless cohesion out of a sea of incongruity.
Cohn wrote three new songs for the LP – including the title track, which looks at later-in-life survivor’s guilt, and the brilliant “Talk Back Mic,” which imagines the Creator as studio engineer.
Meanwhile, the Boys go deep into the gospel hymnal on a vocals-and-handclaps version of “Walk in Jerusalem” and a rock ‘n’ roll-style rendition of “Amazing Grace” set to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun.”
The balance of Work to Do is made of reimagined Cohn tracks from his back catalog – songs that have a surprisingly strong spiritual backbone despite his reputation as a secular singer/songwriter. More surprisingly, these retreads don’t sound lazy – they’re nothing but powerful, from the nearly a cappella chant of “Baby King;” to the car-loving God of “Silver Thunderbird,” which thrives on the Blind Boys’ individual bass to falsetto singing on the coda; to the music-as-salvation celebration of “Listening to Levon;” to the expected (but unexpectedly rendered) “Walking in Memphis.”
Nothing about Work to Do indicates the Frankenstein of an album should work. Yet every single thing about it does.