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Old 05-28-2009, 06:39 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Tower Of Song - Leonard Cohen Reviewed



Might as well get this started now. Seeing as I've finished two pretty long threads something like this, I thought I'd move on to the delights of Leonard Cohen's discography as a next move. He may not exactly be one of the most talented vocalists ever or as stylistically versatile as some singer-songwriters I've seen fit to drone on about, but for me this man pulls off atmosphere better than any of contemporaries and, on top of that, he's probably my favourite ever lyricist as well. That and how I think of his output as being fairly consistent makes him one of my favourites by a long shot, and since he doesn't exactly get a mention around here as often as some makes it quite tempting to start a long-winded and pretentious thread about his discography. As with my other discography thread, I'll only be doing official studio albums like so;

1967 - Songs Of Leonard Cohen
1969 - Songs From a Room
1971 - Songs Of Love and Hate
1974 - New Skin For the Old Ceremony
1977 - Death Of a Ladies' Man
1979 - Recent Songs
1984 - Various Positions
1988 - I'm Your Man
1992 - The Future
2001 - Ten New Songs
2004 - Dear Heather


First review's going up tomorrow... maybe. This should keep me occupied for another few months at least.
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Old 06-03-2009, 08:28 AM   #2 (permalink)
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If anyone's wondering, I'm not sulking from a lack of hits or whatever (makes the task more interesting to be honest) I've just been sidetracked by a few things since I started this thread. So I'll just say there'll be at least a review here by the end of the week(ish).
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Old 06-07-2009, 01:25 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I look forward to this thread with anticipation. My useless local music store is running a promotion of Mr Cohen at the moment due to his new live release in London I think it is. I almost bought an album the other day of his off the cuff, but thought against it and would rather here some news about it first.

First review
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Old 06-07-2009, 01:31 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Huge LC fan here, I'm really looking forward to seeing what you have to say about some of his albums Bulldog.
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Old 06-07-2009, 01:46 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Yeah, sorry about the lack of reviews so far guys. I've been meaning to kick this off for a while now, I just keep getting distracted. I've got a few things to take care of today, so it'll probably be tomorrow that I get this thing started.
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Old 06-08-2009, 06:22 PM   #6 (permalink)
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About time I started this properly I think. I'll be trying to keep these as short as possible. Let's see how it all pans out I guess...

Songs Of Leonard Cohen
1967, Columbia Studio E (NY), Columbia Records


1. Suzanne
2. Master Song
3. Winter Lady
4. The Stranger Song
5. Sisters of Mercy
6. So Long, Marianne
7. Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
8. Stories of the Street
9. Teachers
10. One of Us Cannot Be Wrong


Having graduated from McGill University in Montreal, Leonard Cohen spent most of a lot of his life as a young adult pursuing his literary ambitions. This saw the publication of several volumes of his poetry as well as a couple of novels, all meaning that Cohen entered the world of music at a much older age than usual, seeing as he would have been 33 when this, his debut, was released. Besides his age, given that he was already fairly well-known in his native Canada as a poet and novelist, we had a somewhat unusual kind of personality announcing its arrival on the music scene of the time. Hell, it'd be a bit weird these days too. Despite all that, this isn't to say he was a literate bore with no musical training at all. Throughout the earlier parts of the 60s he'd been a fringe figure within Andy Warhol's Factory crowd and performing solo at various folk festivals.

In fact, some reckon it was watching Nico sing in clubs which had an affect on the stylings of his earliest work, and certainly in places it wouldn't exactly be jumping the gun to think so. If any of you readers are the lucky owners of Nico's Chelsea Girl album, you'd probably be able to fish out a few stylistic similarities with this album. Having seen Judy Collins make his song, Suzanne, as massively popular as it was, Cohen took to the studio with producer John Simon, the backing band Kaleidoscope and backing vocalist Nancy Priddy to capitalise on this the way only a full-length album can. The result of the New York sessions was the shaping of a down-to-earth folk album although, laden as it with Cohen's terrific lyrical talent, it became a slightly darker variation than folk lovers had been used to. The richly evocative and poetic lyrics, not to mention a whole album's-worth of original material, saw this album become part of the groundwork for generations of folk music to come (along with the debuts of other singer-songwriters such as Tim Buckley, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell). The Dylan-inspired folk movement of which Cohen chose to become a part of could be seen as another corner of the music scene's reaction against the Sgt Pepper's-instigated psychedelic album rock which was dominating the airwaves in that very year.

There are still elements of 60s production styles on the album despite Cohen's effort to remove his album's sound from the popular music of the day, but they were still very subtle and barely noticeable ones like instruments panning from channel to channel and such. The album is still dominated by a very lo-fi and intimate approach to folk, with the majority of the songs having Cohen's voice and acoustic guitar right at the front of the mix. Given the senses of despair and observations of character in the lyrics, this approach does the product a whole world of good. It's what raises this album and a lot of Cohen's earlier, lo-fi works above mediocrity - the notion of a very literate selection of lyrics grabbing your attention and not letting it go for a second, all the while backed up by a very smooth, low key and non-intrusive musical backing. It's what makes a good folk song a good folk song for me, and also makes this one of my favourite such albums. There is a definite focus for the album's sound which carries the message of each song across majestically, what with the very sparing use of overdubs and augmentations of any kind which aren't of Cohen's doing.

All of this makes for a very fine good album indeed - a very strong opening statement from one of the world's finest singer-songwriters. It all gives off such a gentle, dreamy, kind of wintry atmosphere which makes for a terrific downtime album. There isn't quite enough variation in sound for me to rank this with my all-time favourite albums though, as there are a few weaker moments on show. A few of the songs though (particularly those in the videos below) are among Cohen's finest, which definitely makes this a very worthwhile listen. All in all, a sublime debut. Not a classic, but definitely worth a go.

8/10


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Old 07-14-2009, 12:34 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Bumped because I'm in the mood for doing this kind of thing again.

I'll update this within the next few days.
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Old 07-27-2009, 06:45 PM   #8 (permalink)
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^ I'm so good at sticking to my word

Songs From a Room
1969, Columbia Studio A (Nashville TN), Columbia Records

1. Bird on the Wire
2. Story of Isaac
3. A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes
4. The Partisan
5. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
6. The Old Revolution
7. The Butcher
8. You Know Who I Am
9. Lady Midnight
10. Tonight Will Be Fine


Considered too dark to be deemed a commercial success in the most obvious sense of the phrase, the Songs Of Leonard Cohen, while largely being a commercial failure, did earn Cohen a sizeable cult following among folk's audience of the day, particularly in the UK where it beat the odds to peak at #13 in the album charts and then remain there for over a year. Upon the buzz about it fading, it was high time to record the followup.

For the Nashville sessions in October '68, Cohen opted to hire Bob Johnston (who'd work with Dylan, Cash, Simon and Garfunkel over the years) instead of reacquainting himself with John Simon (with whom he'd had a bone or two to pick regarding the mixing of his debut). Despite what I'd call the success of the fuller, more well-honed sound of his debut, this was in a bid to give Cohen's second effort a more uncluttered, rootsy and kind of spartan appeal. So it was that, armed with a dozen-odd new songs, a host of suitably subtle session musicians and the expectation of his new audience, Songs From a Room was recorded.

What results is a good enough although not spectacular album in my opinion. In a musical sense, all the songs from a room bar the magnificent Lady Midnight have that very sedated feel that one could easily expect from any lo-fi, late-60s folk album, in this case even more so given the fact that Cohen ditches the more lavish production style of his debut. Clocking at a mere 35 minutes, things do fall a little on the short side too, which makes it clear from the outset that this is where Cohen, being a published poet at the time and all, wanted melody, extended instrumental breaks and all that mumbo-jumbo to take a back seat to the messages he wanted to get across.

So, basically, the strength of this album isn't in the heart-warming style and lush delivery like the Songs Of Leonard Cohen, but instead the focus is on the lyrics that Cohen sings gently over the top of some very reined-in backing tracks. Seeing as what tends to catch my attention in a piece of music is some kind of musical hook more than an eloquent lyric, this made this album quite a tough pill to swallow for me at first. On the first listen then, besides the smooth-as-bread-and-butter guitar on Story Of Isaac, the ear-opening parallel between the acoustic and bass guitar on You Know Who I Am and the bright chords that underpin Lady Midnight, not a lot really stuck in my head after finishing with it. In that way, then, it's not really an album I'd recommend to those who don't really have an ear for a lo-fi acoustic folk. It definitely does reward repeated listening though, as the story of the suicidal Nancy Challies of Montreal in Seems So Long Ago Nancy, the biblical reference of Story Of Isaac, the beauty of the Partisan and the flair of the lovesong Tonight Will Be Fine unravels as the album starts to make that much more sense as a unit.

All in all, Songs From a Room makes for a very sedated listen, and goes well with an airing in the dead of night. Seeing as the strengths and hooks are in the lyrics and not always the music though, I don't think this'll hit the spot if you don't have a lot of patience for its sound. At least not immediately anyway - while I do appreciate it a lot more than I used to, I'd say the following rating does it justice, at least the way I see it.

7/10




If anyone's wondering, these'll get much longer and more interesting by the time I get to the albums I listen to an insane amount.
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Old 09-02-2009, 10:15 AM   #9 (permalink)
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To be honest, you're a wanker for giving me 'Dear Heather' and 'Ten New Songs' when I asked for recommendations a while back, rather than SOLC and SOLH.

Recent convert, even though you tried to stop me

Top reviews ey!
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Old 09-02-2009, 11:13 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
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To be honest, you're a wanker for giving me 'Dear Heather' and 'Ten New Songs' when I asked for recommendations a while back, rather than SOLC and SOLH.

Recent convert, even though you tried to stop me

Top reviews ey!
Well, at least you've got a copy of 1000 Kisses Deep now eh. Good to hear you've seen the light anyway - all you've gotta do now is get into Scott Walker

Oddly enough, I forgot this thread even existed. I'm only two entries from finishing the Gram Parsons one, so I'll be going through the rest of Lenny C's stuff with a fine tooth comb soon enough.
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