Monday, July 22, 2013

Ten New Songs - Leonard Cohen (Album)

Sorry I missed posting last week. I had my reasons.

You are probably familiar with one or more renditions of the song "Hallelujah." You know, the one that starts "I heard there was a secret chord..."? But in all likelihood you have never heard the original version, or anything sung by the song's writer, Leonard Cohen. If you are not acquainted  ith Cohen beyond having heard that one song, it may surprise you to know he has been inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, which Wikipedia ensures me is Canada's highest civilian honor.

"Who is this guy?" you might wonder, "And why have I never really heard of him?" Well, I don't know why you've never heard of him. Lack of good breeding probably has something to do with it. I first heard of Mr. Cohen in Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea," where Cobain asks--rather inexplicably--for a "Leonard Cohen afterbirth."

While he is perhaps best know for his writing of "Hallelujah," the 78 year-old singer/songwriter has been an active musician industry for the last five decades, and yes, he's still active to this day. He's written hundreds of songs, some as good as Hallelujah, and a great deal of them even better. His career is too big to cover in one blog post, but allow me to say that in the time he's been writing he has inspired thousands of artists and explored many different artistic venues.

One cannot help but compare his early albums with Dylan, but for the last twenty years or so he has utilized the feeling, mood, and instrumentation typical of southern gospel music, mixed with a dark folksiness that is all his own. Specifically, I want to draw your attention to his 2001 album Ten New Songs, which performed well in many countries, and went platinum in Canada and Poland (for some reason). In my opinion, this is almost a perfect album. Each song resonates. There are no thrown-away lines, or songs to fill the space between singles. Two solid years of production went into the album, and it shows.

Unfortunately, it has lost a lot of ground since it was released. Have you ever heard of it ? Probably not. This is an album to listen to with closed eyes, examining each word, then allowing them to wash over you. Cohen's voice is present on each track, but so is his group of gospel singers, which have been seamlessly incorporated into the music.

Cohen is a devout Jew, as well as an ordained Buddhist monk. He is a man of wisdom, and important truths are constantly explored, abandoned, forgotten, learned, and accepted throughout the body of this album. Everything seems effortless here. It is not an album that is trying to accomplish something, it simply does. I recommend listening to it about a dozen times. The songs are at times catchy, but there's a lot more going on here, and I challenge you to find it.

-MA 7.22.2013

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