Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Dear Heather (2004)

The official vinyl version of Dear Heather was released in 2012. I have heard that there were unofficial vinyl copies released in 2004, but I have never seen one. I have seen Dear Heather  coloured vinyl. Mine, alas, is a plain black pressing.  

Dear Heather is my least favourite Leonard Cohen record. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but this is a miss for me. The first track, Go No More-A-Roving, the Lord Byron poem, does nothing for me. Because Of... is OK. I appreciate the sentiment in any case.

I probably hate The Letters and Undertow. On the other hand, On that Day is great. But, the strongest track for me is Tennessee Waltz, a cover song that Cohen has performed live many times. Its inclusion on this record makes me wonder if he ran out of songs and had to dig one up from the archives. Much of the record says AOR to me. Still, it's a treat to have a new Cohen record, and I will never part with this one until I die.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (1988)

Stick another turtle on the fire
Guys like me are mad for turtle meat

My photo of my two copies of I'm Your Man is a bit crooked. Sorry about that.

I'm Your Man was quite a dramatic change in sound for Cohen. The guitar is all but gone, replaced by keyboards and synthetic rhythms. The lyrics, though, are classic Cohen with a good deal of humour thrown in. Jennifer Warnes recorded First We Take Manhattan the year before (making good use of Stevie Ray Vaughan), so many people we already familiar with that song. There are so many good songs on this record, it's really difficult to choose a favourite. I was quite happy when I learned that The Pixies choose to record I Can't Forget for the I'm Your Fan tribute album. That song is an overlooked gem on this record. Tower of Song is, of course, a masterpiece.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Various Positions (1984)

I recently read The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah" by Alan Light. The book recounts the rise of the song Hallelujah from a position of relative obscurity to its current position as being one of the most recorded songs in history, with hundreds of cover versions. Even Leonard Cohen was quoted as saying that he thought that too many people sing the song. I happened to be familiar with the song well before Jeff Buckley sang it and even before John Cale sang it. In fact, when I heard the news about the then-upcoming I'm Your Fan tribute album, I was really interested in hearing Cale's take on the song and was curious as to which lyrics he would sing. I thought his cover version was extremely good, but even then, I had no idea that it would become such a huge song.

I can relate to the bizarre rise of the song Hallelujah. When I first heard Various Positions back in 1984, the strongest song for me was (and still is) If It Be Your Will. My second favorite was The Night Comes On. I liked Hallelujah but I was not dazzled by the production. In fact, the production is the weakest thing about this record. The atmosphere in the room studio seems to interfere with the music. I feel the same way about Dance me to the End of Love. Later live versions are much better.

Still, it's truly baffling to me that Various Positions was rejected by Cohen's US record label.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Top Artists of Pop Music: Leonard Cohen (1982)

This compilation record from the Netherlands collects tracks from the first five album, and even includes Memories from Death of a Ladies' Man. Unless you are a record collector or a rabid fan, there is really no need to have this (or Liebesträume: Leonard Cohen Singt Seine Schönsten Lieder) because all of these songs are available elsewhere. I'm happy to have it in my collection. This record was released on CD in Australia under the title Highlights.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Liebesträume - Leonard Cohen Singt Seine Schönsten Lieder (Dreams of Love - Leonard Cohen Sings His Most Beautiful Songs) (1980)

Liebesträume: Leonard Cohen Singt Seine Schönsten Lieder (Dreams of Love - Leonard Cohen Sings His Most Beautiful Songs) is a German import on the CBS label that was made in Holland, for some reason. It's a collection of sixteen songs from his first five studio records (carefully avoiding anything from Death of a Ladies' Man) and including Passing Thru from the live record. I acquired this one recently for a price that was difficult to pass up.

Leonard Cohen: Recent Songs (1979)

I think Recent Songs is an under-appreciated Leonard Cohen album. It contains some of my favourite Cohen songs, like The Window, The Guests, The Gypsy's Wife, The Smokey Life, and The Traitor, which I would rank as one of Cohen's finest compositions.

Of all of the reviews and comments that I have read, I appreciate this from Stephen Scobie the most:

"...perhaps the most concise statement he has ever made of his central vision occurs in the last verse of his song "The Window," from Recent Songs:

Then lay your rose on the fire

The fire give up to the sun

The sun give over to splendour

In the arms of the High Holy One

For the Holy One dreams of a letter

Dreams of a letter's death

Oh bless the continuous stutter

Of the word being made into flesh

Only Leonard Cohen could conceive of the process of the Word being made Flesh as a stutter - and only Cohen could bless that insight.
" [source]

I can't remember when I bought my copy, as usual.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Death of a Ladies' Man (1977)

If you have ever read any biographies of LC, you will already be aware of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the recording of the record and the behaviour of Phil Spector. I remember being very disappointed in this record when I heard it for the first time. That didn't stop me from buying it on CD as well. The truth is, I rarely listen to it, but that mostly has to do with the production. Some of the songs are really good and would be much stronger if delivered in Cohen's trademark sound. Instead, we have a disaster. Memories, which I have heard live, is a really fine song. Some cover versions from the album are OK too, like the Fatima Mansions' cover of Paper Thin Hotel.

Here is a truly perplexing live rendition of Memories.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Leonard Cohen Greatest Hits (1975)

My first copy of this record was a mess. It was scratched and the cover was torn and covered in writing. The split seams on each side were "repaired" with masking and/or electrical tape. The record sounded horrible, but that somehow seemed appropriate. It was also the first Leonard Cohen record I ever owned. I listened to it about a thousand times. Years later, I bought the CD and then a replacement copy on vinyl.

I am not sure that my dad understood Mr. Cohen. Sometimes, my dad came home late in the evening from work. If he noticed a light was on in my bedroom, he would come up to say hello. During a certain period of time, I would be playing nothing other than this record. I remember him staring at the turntable in amazement, and I was never sure if it as because of the surface noise and the myriad pops and clicks, or because the music was a far cry from my usual music. He never said. I wish I had kept my beat up copy of this record. But, since I sold it for a dollar at a lawn sale, that's almost as good. I am sure that someone else found something in the music.

If you could only buy one LC record, this is the one to get.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Leonard Cohen: New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974)

Once again, I was forced to buy an import from Holland when I bought a CD copy of this record, as no domestic releases were available. The CD copy has the much better uncensored cover. It looks like the Canadian record label felt that the 16th century drawing was too risque for the masses. So, they just replaced it with a photo of Mr. Cohen. For further details, I suggest this posting on the various covers.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony is fabulous. It's difficult to choose a favourite song, but if I had to, it would probably be either Take this Longing on Chelsea Hotel No. 2.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Live Songs (1973)

Back when I was buying CDs, I was forced to obtain an import of this CD from Holland, as there was no domestic release. My record, though, is a Canadian pressing. Live Songs is an intense record. I am way too  young to have seen Cohen in this era, so it's interesting to hear what the concerts were like.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Songs of Love and Hate (1971)

Now if you can manage to get
your trembling fingers to behave,
why don't you try unwrapping
a stainless steel razor blade?
That's right, it's come to this,
yes it's come to this,
and wasn't it a long way down,
wasn't it a strange way down? 

Everything about this record is depressing, even the jacket, with an unshaven Cohen oddly smiling from out of the blackness. It looks a bit sinister. I own a CD bootleg of Leonard Cohen's performance at the Beeb from 1968, before this record was released. He says, in his introduction to Dress Rehearsal Rag, that he only sings this song when he is sure that the landscape can support the despair he is about to project into it. I am paraphrasing, of course, but I think I am close to the original quote. The album is depressing at times, yet uplifting at others. The children's chorus that comes in in the final moments of Last Year's Man is very moving. For me, the best songs are Famous Blue Raincoat and Joan of Arc, later covered by Jennifer Warnes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room (1969)

I really hate that enormous "Nice Price" sticker that covers up so much of the album jacket. For some reason, my copy is an import from Holland.

Bird on the Wire (often misrepresented as Bird on A Wire - even on cover versions) has never been a favourite LC song of mine. I like it, but its success has always puzzled me. There are other more interesting songs on this record, like You Know Who I Am, Tonight Will be Fine, Lady Midnight, etc., etc. I think Allmusic is correct is saying that this record is not nearly as good as the first Cohen record, but I think they sell it short. It is a very very good album. The last line of the Allmusic review is a bit more charitable: "...[the album's] strongest moments convey a naked intimacy and fearless emotional honesty that's every bit as powerful as the debut, and it left no doubt that Cohen was a major creative force in contemporary songwriting"[source].

Friday, January 09, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Leonard Cohen is perhaps my favourite singer of all time. In my collection, I have over 100 items, covering CDs (singles, albums, compilations, bootlegs, promotional releases), DVDs, cassettes and records. One my my CDs has Leonard's autograph. On top of that, I think I have copies of all of his books (poetry and novels), biographies, an exhibition catalague of his paintings, books about his music, etc.

I have three copies of Cohen's debut record. The album on the left, in the above photo, is in near mint condition, complete with lyric sheet. I picked that up at least 25 years ago for a steal.

This album is nothing short of a masterpiece. I would regard it as the greatest Canadian record of all time. If you haven't heard it, you should do so. I like all of the songs so much, I have difficulty choosing a favourite, though Stories of the Street would rank very high, along with Suzanne, of course.

Songs of Leonard Cohen was not my first L Cohen record, but more on that later.