Saturday, January 31, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road (2010)

As I have said many times to many people, I prefer live records of an entire concert, rather than hand-picked live tunes from various concerts, which is what this record is. Still, this is Leonard, and he could do almost no wrong, so I am happy with this double LP.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Live In London (2009)

I have three copies of this release:

- the DVD
- the double CD (in a digipack)
- the triple LP

Each version contains 25 tracks recorded live at the O2 Arena on July 17th, 2008. The vinyl version was released later than the CD and DVD, arriving on March 31, 2014. This was set recorded as part of that never-ending tour that was done in part, I think, to recoup some of the money that was embezzled from Cohen by his former business manager.

I felt truly sorry for Cohen when I heard the news, and I realized early on that any court victory would be hallow, given that the money was probably all gone. On the other hand, this unfortunate event led to many concerts, the world over, that helped to remind the world of his greatness. Perhaps we can also thank that event for the subsequent later studio output, plus Book of Longing. Who knows what might have happened if Cohen's finances weren't burgled.

Whatever the course of events and motivations, I am happy to have this LP. I'm not sure that anything can touch his first live recording, and I think Field Commander Cohen might be a tad stronger than this LP. Nevertheless, Live in London is a remarkable document, and it clearly show the devotion of his audience, his connection to his fan base, and his humour.

Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (2009)

Thirty-nine years after this legendary performance, it was finally released on vinyl and CD/DVD, and I have both. I think, in this case, you really need both formats. If you are a Cohen fan, you really need to see this amazing video of Cohen in front of 600,000 restless fans. As far as I can tell, only a single track -- Tonight Will be Fine -- had been previously released, on Live Songs. Finally, we got to hear more of the concert. While it was worth the wait, I think they waited too long too release it.

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.

Leonard Cohen: Ten New Songs (2001)

Leonard always took his time between records. After 1992's The Future, we were given Cohen Live: Leonard Cohen in Concert (1994), More Best of (1997) Field Commander Cohen - Tour of 1979 (2000), and a few other box sets and such. So, nine years later, we finally got a new Leonard Cohen record, which I bought immediately on CD. I have seen original pressings of this LP, but none were in good enough shape for me to consider buying.

Sadly, this LP is no where nears as good as The Future or I'm Your Man. It seemed to me that Leonard was sliding gracefully into his elder years. After all, he was 67, or so, when this came out. having said that, this is a pleasant record ad I was thrilled to hear Cohen sing some new songs, ten new songs, in fact.

Each song is beautifully crafted with Leonard's sharp wordsmithing. My only criticism is the production. Many of the tracks simply seem unfinished to me. Still, they certainly grew on me and I think they are truly great tunes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Leonard Cohen: Field Commander Cohen (2000)

As much as I like the first live record from Cohen, released in 1973, I think Field Commander Cohen is the best live Cohen record. The songs were recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon on December 4th through 6th, 1979, as well as at the Dome Theatre, Brighton on December 15, 1979.

The concert was part of the Smokey Life Tour, launched after Recent Songs. That tour ever made it to Canada, probably because he was far more famous abroad. Most Canadians were very slow to catch on to his genius. he did tour parts of Canada for the Various Positions Tour of 1985 and 1985.
...Field Commander Cohen makes clear that Cohen writes songs, not literature accompanied by incidental music, and here these 12 songs possess a passionate, aching beauty that's a wonder to behold; this is easily the best Leonard Cohen live recording to emerge to date. [source]
I'd argue that this remains his best live recording.

Leonard Cohen: The Future (1992)

I rank The Future as one of Cohen's best releases, perhaps his best since his debut. I said that to an person I used to know. She was a big fan too, and she told me she didn't like this record! What? I still have a hard time understanding that. I'm Your Man was a big hit for Cohen, and I really loved that record, but there is a darkness to The Future that I find quite appealing. And yet, that darkness is often balanced by the light:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

And by the sexual mixed with the spiritual, as we have all come to expect from Cohen:

She stands before you naked
You can see it, you can taste it,
And she comes to you light as the breeze.
Now you can drink it or you can nurse it,
It don't matter how you worship
As long as you're
Down on your knees.
So I knelt there at the delta,
At the alpha and the omega,
At the cradle of the river and the seas.
And like a blessing come from heaven
For something like a second
I was healed and my heart
Was at ease

There's a a number of funny lines as well.

This record contains one of my favourite Cohen tunes, Democracy.  I'd say that this track is the best thing Cohen put out in the post 1960-80s era. I even own two different CD singles featuring this tune (one is a promo). Democracy is a tour de force, filled with some visceral imagery and a subtle sense of humour. It's a verbal attack on American culture, though his love for the USA is also obvious. I remember the first time I heard this song, on a little boom box in a the bedroom where I was living in Toronto. I wanted to run to the living room and turn on the stereo for better sound, but I didn't want to miss the lyrics flowing past, and a lot of lyrics there are.

I've never owned the original pressing. This record came out when I was deep in compact discland. I have seen a couple of first vinyl pressings, but the prices were way too high and the condition was never good enough to warrant the expense.

The title track was originally titled, If You Could See What's Coming Next. Indeed, this was well before 9/11, and I think it's fair to say that no one saw that, and all the impending consequences and war, coming.

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that's left
And stuff it up the hole
In your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I've seen the future, brother
It is murder

The above resonates with me especially today. George W. Bush, in contrast to Trump, seems, in  totally reasonable and almost benign.

There are two cover tunes on the LP. I think that the only other cover tunes Cohen recorded, to this point, were The Partisan, The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien Errant). This LP also contains Cohen's first instrumental, which is a really a minor, though tranquil and quite enjoyable, piece.

I am also very fond of Closing Time, partly because I used to live close to Club Matador, where the video was filmed. There are some very funny and sensual lyrics in this tune.

Yeah we're drinking and we're dancing
But there's nothing really happening
And the place is dead as heaven on a Saturday night
And my very close companion
Gets me fumbling gets me laughing
She's a hundred but she's wearing
Something tight

And then there are these lyrics:  "All the women tear their blouses off" and "And the cider's laced with acid/" I could go on, but I won't. The Future is a masterwork, and perhaps his best record since his debut.

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 were 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 albums, 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.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Cocteau Twins: Treasure + Aikea-Guinea (1985)

"The band was named after the song "The Cocteau Twins" by fellow Scotsmen 'Johnny and the Self-Abusers' (who later renamed themselves Simple Minds; the song "The Cocteau Twins" was also re-penned as "No Cure")." [source]

Here we have a delightful and enigmatic Scottish band. Cocteau Twins records tend to be pricey and somewhat hard to find. The Canadian pressing of Treasure, the ban's third record, was bundled with a bonus 12" EP. There are six copies currently on sale at withe prices ranging from $35 to $60. I paid far less.

If you have never heard this band, it is difficult to describe, but Allmusic does a good job. About Elizabeth Fraser, the lead singer, Allmusic says: " utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions. [source]About the record, the critic says: "Treasure lives up to its title and then some as a thorough and complete triumph" [source] I can only nod my head and agree.

Bruce Cockburn: Bone on Bone (2017)

After 50 years in the business and now at the age of 72, Cockburn released his 33rd record, Bone on Bone. Evidently, the reference to bone refers to arthritis, though it's difficult to tell because his guitar playing seems fine to me, though I gather his hands hurt. I have read that there are a few tunes in his back catalogue that he can no longer play. His voice still sounds great too.

But, let's not fail to discuss Jesus Train:

I’m on a Jesus train
I’m on a Jesus train
I’m on a Jesus train
headed for
headed for
headed for the City of God

Just when I thought that he might have finally cast off the shackles of faith, realized that there are no  imaginary beings in the sky, it comes flaring back like a bad infection. Maybe he senses his mortality and he wants to embrace Pascal's Wager which would be a fool's gambit. Oh, and then there's 40 Years in the Wilderness. Sweet fancy Moses!

Bruce Cockburn: Nothing But a Burning Light (1991)

The only country in the world that pressed copies of this record was The Netherlands. Consequently, this is a difficult record to get a hold of, and it is certainly often not cheap. This happens to be the last album from Cockburn that was released on vinyl. Maybe his later few records will be re-released on vinyl.

It's a pretty good record, and far better that this mediocre record that followed. (Dart to the Heart was a weird record that seemed to try a more mainstream path. It failed, though there are a couple of good tracks). Dream Like Mine is a great single, and they are some really good album tracks. But, I will have to state my objection to Cry of a Tiny Babe, which is a ridiculous song that is lyrically unimpressive:

"Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today""

The last two lines are probably the clunkiest Cockburn has ever penned. The track goes on to discuss the three wise men, Herod, etc. Just when I thought that Bruce was shedding the shackles of faith, he records that stinker of a song.

Bruce Cockburn: Live (1990)

This is a difficult record to find, as it dates to 1990, when vinyl was in its death throes. I have a pressing from Germany. The vinyl has fewer tracks than the CD version, which I also have. This album was recorded at Ontario Place over two nights, and I was in the crowd on one of those nights. So, if you listen carefully, you can probably hear me :)

Bruce Cockburn: Big Circumstance (1989)

I saw Bruce in concert at Ontario Place more than once, but I can't remember how many times. It was a great venue for concerts and it was cheap too. Concerts were free with a $5 admission after some point in the evening, like 8:00. And, the stage rotated, which was cool. Sadly, that stage was demolished years ago and I have never been back.

During one Cockburn concert, on the Big Circumstance tour, a Chinese family got up and marched out when Bruce was part way through The Tibetan Side of Town. I think it was the line: "With their clinging memories of a culture crushed by Chinese greed." Clearly, they were not familiar with his music, and the free price tag wasn't enough to hold them.

The best thing about this record is the return to the guitar. I like his previous efforts with world music, but the sound was sometimes too big. The guitar is back where it belongs on this record.

I suppose from a religious point of view, Gospel of Bondage should be considered something of a brave statement from the once very Christian Cockburn.

Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you,
But if God stays silent, what else can you do
Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you'd surely see
That God won't be reduced to an ideology 

I guess it's a movement away from structured religion.

By this album, Bruce included a few more environmental songs into his repertoire, like Radium Rain and If a Tree Fall.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bruce Cockburn: Waiting for a Miracle: Singles 1970-1987 (1987)

The CD release of this double LP contains some extra songs. I suppose that's one advantage of CDs. But, the vinyl collection is great. Two new songs appear here: Stolen Land and the much better title track, which was later covered by Jerry Garcia. Since this is a singles collection, it misses what I feel are some much stronger tunes, but it is a good retrospective of his career to 1987.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bruce Cockburn: World of Wonders (1986)

I guess it had to happen. After putting out an album each year since 1970 (though the 1982 release was a compilation), Bruce missed 1985. That was a good run. My first copy of this record was on cassette. What a stupid medium for music. I really can't believe that digital audio tape was a thing for a while. I once had a copy of an album by Seal on DAT. I'm glad that format went nowhere.

World of Wonders contains the only Cockburn song that I dislike. Although the sentiment of People See Through You is okay, the delivery and lyrics seem weak to me. The rest of the album is very good and there are even steel drums on See How I Miss You.

I watch this woman in a tight sequined lizard dress --
Tosses her scarlet hair like a sly caress
She got midnight voice like some beckoning saint
She got something special but you she ain't
See how I miss you 

I really like what the Allmusic Guide wrote about this record:

"Still, how many artists could write a song decrying the evils of the International Monetary Fund ("Call It Democracy"), complete with expletive, and make it spirited enough to be released as a single, or pen a love song ("See How I Miss You") that contains references to "secret police" and reading a "psychopath's" magazine? Bruce Cockburn is a complex artist writing about complex times, and World of Wonders does a good job of capturing that." [source]

Bruce Cockburn: Stealing Fire (1984)

Stealing Fire would make it into my top five Cockburn records. It contains Lovers in a Dangerous Time, which is perhaps his most well-known song. The other big track from this record is If I Had a Rocket Launcher. This is the album that probably brought him the most attention. There is not a bad song on the record.  It's a truly fabulous blend of folk, rock, and some world rhythms.

By the last album, Cockburn dumped pretty much all of the overt Christianity, and moved more fully into politics, with the usual slate of love songs. The political songs are decidedly left-wing:

You're the best of what we are -- 
Don't let them stop you now 

I imagine that those lyrics didn't go over too well south of the border.

Weirdly, my copy is a promo from the US and it has a horrible gold stamp as well as a hype sticker on the front. Oh well, the vinyl is in great shape. I have no memory of when of where I bought this record.

By the way, to all of you new to records, the plural of vinyl is vinyl. I hate how I keep hearing vinyls. That is wrong.

The video for Lovers in a Dangerous Time is weak, in my humble opinion.

My favourite track from the record is Dust and Diesel.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Bruce Cockburn: The Trouble with Normal (1983)

The Trouble with Normal is one of my favourite Cockburn political tunes. When I saw him in concert in 1985, Cockburn dedicated the song to the Mulroneys. That seemed appropriate, especially in front of a university crowd. I think I saw him twice on that tour. Cockburn dropped the pure folky sound and moved on to more elaborate productions, which work, I think, for the most part.