Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Leonard Cohen - Dear Heather - Album Review [18th January 2012]

From A Teacher.

Caught in the Bretton magnet, I had asked a good friend of mine [Chris Bambling] to pick me up a copy of this album as he was headed to town that day. It was a sad day - we had read the news that John Peel had died in the morning. My friend delivered Dear Heather to me in the afternoon. It felt an important gesture towards hope, more so due to its invention I was about to find out, a concept Mr. Peel loyally promoted.

Dear Heather is a truly eclectic collection. Although all new recordings (except Tennessee Waltz,) are, once more, digitally so, the content and orchestration varies greatly. Many of Cohen's perfected talents are carefully included in the playlist.

The opening inclusion Go No More A-Roving uses the words of a Byron poem by the same name, with Cohen setting them to be sung in his newly composed music. It is one of those wonderful marriages that has already occurred in our minds and almost assumed to have happened previously. Certainly a bold task to reinvent a classic from such a great poet, but the vision of this ladies' man on the work of another notorious one is perfectly judged and unleashes further yearning from heart of the poem. To complete the unity, the song is dedicated to Irving Layton, one of Cohen's friends and mentors. He later repeats this type of tribute on this album, reading a Frank Scott poem, Villanelle For Our Time, over newly written music.

Because Of is the first of a few (Morning Glory, Villanelle For Our Time, Dear Heather, To A Teacher) inclusions of poetry set to music. The self-referencing humour is joyous, and I think supports the theory, like Ben mentioned of last weeks record, that Cohen is now comfortable in his new stage of life. 'Look at me Leonard, look at me one last time' laying forth the life in the old dog, before orchestrating his lover Anjani Thomas to give a simultaneously credible (by her relationship with him) and ridiculous (ordering the singing of) edge to the words. It is this emotion that inspired part of my song, myshades.

Cohen, who from Famous Blue Raincoat, I have held in a particular high esteem for his ability to make a written letter a resonant art-form - here includes a beautiful song The Letters, swapping verses with Sharon Robinson laying forth crushing misunderstandings between lovers. At the time, this connected painfully.

Knowing Cohen takes his time on his works, it is striking to see him present a song commenting on 11th September, but three years from the tragedy. When challenged with immediacy, Cohen shows the carefulness of his thought is not routed in time, but feeling. It reminds me of the Michael Moore documentary, Bowling For Columbine when he asks Marilyn Manson in regards to the teenagers that committed the shootings "what would you say to them?" and Marilyn Manson responded "I wouldn't say a single word to them, I would listen to what they had to say." In Cohen's song, his thrust is similar, he asks the people responsible "Did you go crazy? Or did you report?" The small springy sound of a Jews harp has never sounded so militant and defiant as it does entering after the first chorus, like all Jewish New Yorkers standing up as one in protest against attack.

As with his previous record, Dear Heather is heavily connected with his yet to be published poetry collection Book Of Longing (2006.)  Here, supporting his more inclusive stylings of the playlist, simple drawings adorn the inlay booklet, many duplicates of ones which will appear alongside his latest poetry book, which will include the songs Because Of, There For You, Nightingale and The Faith all appear in their written form.

Topically, Cohen's lyrics are more diverse in their commentary than on many of his other records. The old traditions of love and union, requited or otherwise, are met from Go No More A-Roving, The Letters, There For You (I agree with Ben, this is the 11th Tenth New Song, also ouses Sharon Robinson in the tonality of the progressions) the harmonious Nightingale, The Faith, and the country-classic cover Tenessee Waltz. The title track itself is a strange message of desire, a refrain repeated, each time delivered in a more fragmented way, splitting words into separate characters, all set amongst, in particular, a chirpy organ and breathy backing vocals. On That Day, although transcendental, focusses on a specific problem. The words of a man past in 1985 are brought into relevance in Villanelle For Our Time. The Faith also seeking to comment on purpose. Feeling the final stages of his life, perhaps he feels it is now or never to embrace this kind of discussion.

Digitally recorded again, this record is rewarded for returning a variety of sound to the orchestration. Where simple synths suited Ten New Songs stripped modesty, Dear Heather's scrapbook sense of charm is matched by fresh tones among the tracks. A harpsichord adorn The Letters with a contemplative bleeding heart. A saxophone (I believe played by Leonard) leading a light across the water of Undertow. The initial a cappella arrangement of Nightingale adding a vibrant joy to the celebration.

This record is prolific in its dedications, the whole item ultimately being a gift in memory of Jack McClelland, a pioneering publisher in Canada, who supported Cohen.To A Teacher is dedicated to the late poet A. M. Klein. On his recent tour, in the first shows, Cohen would welcome applause for each musician amongst the songs and at the end prolifically. This was criticised by reviews, and Cohen has relented this more recently. I believe this humility and this attitude of thanks is something that has grown of his studies on Mt. Baldy. I find it a very satisfying form of connectivity, linking the artist in a context, which I feel gives a fair representation to their contribution. Where Ten New Songs was careful to only offer the finest fruit, here modesty is granted by presenting a box of a life thanking those that made the life possible. I remember thinking when hearing this back in 2004, that this was a goodbye. I have a feeling it will still feel more so than the short to be released Old Ideas. We shall see!

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