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By Chuck Cox

Special Contributor

Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne belts out a tune on Saturday night at the Kessler. (Photo: Chuck Cox)

Fresh off of last Thursday’s Toad the Wet Sprocket show, the Kessler‘s unofficial “1990s Flashback Month” continued with two absolutely amazing concerts — Joan Osborne and Marc Cohn — over the weekend.

The two very well-respected solo artists, who had one huge Top 40 hit each, showed off their serious musical chops by putting together fantastic shows, complete with killer opening acts. And the Kessler was absolutely the perfect place for their styles.

Joan Osborne and Sara Hickman (Saturday)

Osborne’s mega-hit “One Of Us” was impossible to avoid in 1995.  And that was a good thing. Her song was so big Prince covered it on his Emancipation album the following year. When Prince is covering your song, you’ve done something very, very right. Osborne opened her encore with a beautiful version of the song that made her famous. And she also gave a nod to Prince by covering “Little Red Corvette,” with a little bit of lyrical help from an audience member.

Her 90-minute show was heavy on cover songs, touching on acts like the Grateful Dead, Willie Dixon, Tina Turner, Otis Redding, Van Morrison and Dave Mason, including songs from the blues cover album, Bring It On Home, she released last year. After opening with “St. Teresa,” Osborne played a couple of new songs, “How You Work On Me,” and “Where We Start.”

Opener Sara Hickman, whose name I’ve heard a thousand times but had never seen, was absolutely awesome. With a commanding stage presence and an acoustic guitar, Hickman owned the audience while, at times, sounding like she had some musical accompaniment by pounding out beats on her guitar. With numerous studio albums to her credit, the 2010 Official State Musician of Texas  had plenty of material to choose from. And her set list was flawless.

Mark Cohn and Madison King (Sunday)

Other than his mega-hit “Walking in Memphis,” I really didn’t know much of anything about Cohn. I was pretty sure he would be amazing, though. And he didn’t disappoint. Belting out tunes both from behind the piano, on guitar, and just by himself throughout his two-hour show, Cohn showed off his skills as a musician and vocalist.

Not knowing most of his material, I was enthralled by several of his songs, like “Listening to Levon,” an ode to the late Levon Helm, “Silver Thunderbird,” and wedding song extraordinaire, “True Companion.” Cohn joked around when he hit an extra note during the latter that was due to the lack of success of his first marriage.

Cohn, a Cleveland native, was a very engaging guy who told some amazing stories with and in between his songs. He said it was his only the second or third time he had ever played Dallas, so he told the story of being a struggling young songwriter when he took a fateful trip to Memphis that ended up being the narrative for his signature song.

Local girl Madison King was also brilliant as Cohn’s opening act. She was clearly comfortable, although also psyched to be playing with a Grammy winner. “No big deal,” she jokingly told the audience. Like Hickman, King’s songs had a very honest quality to them. And she played them magnificently. King plays lots of shows in the area, so go check her out if you get a chance.

In an interesting side note, neither Osborne nor Cohn had ever played the Kessler before, but both Hickman and King had. After Cohn showed some love for the room, someone from the audience implored him to come back. He said he would, and that he hadn’t left yet.

Joan Osborne photo album.

Marc Cohn photo album.

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