Leonard Cohen is not a very prolific artist. In a 47-year music career he has made just 13 studio albums, along with a passel of live releases. (Compare that with Bob Dylan’s 35, or Neil Young’s 39 solo records.) But despite the relatively small size of Cohen’s catalog, it still has a lot of underappreciated gems. Here are 12 songs that seem to me to be unjustly overlooked, in honor of Cohen’s 80th year. Happy birthday, Leonard!
1. “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” 1969
I’ve always preferred Cohen’s first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” to his second, “Songs From a Room,” partly because I’ve never been a huge fan of “Bird on a Wire,” the most famous track from the second album. But the 1969 release does have this sad and beautiful tune, one of several Cohen songs to address the subject of suicide. In this performance, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, he explains some of the background as well.
Music legend Leonard Cohen was a double winner at this past weekend’s JUNO Awards held in Regina, Saskatchewan. The JUNOs, presented by The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys.
Cohen was named Artist of the Year, and he also received the JUNO Award for Songwriter of the Year for three songs on his “Old Ideas” album. Cohen was not in attendance at the various JUNO ceremonies and galas to personally receive the honors.
While newcomer Carly Rae Jepsen bested Cohen by winning three awards, the 78-year-old icon beat out both the “Call Me Maybe” singer and pop star Justin Bieber for Artist of the Year. Cohen has now won five JUNOs over the course of his career.
Jewish performers Drake, Adam Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s son), and Toronto group Jaffa Road were among the JUNO nominees this year.
“Leonard Cohen: The Musical.” What would such a creation possibly look like? I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out.
“Chelsea Hotel: The Songs of Leonard Cohen” premiered in February at the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver and will appear at the Prairie Theater Exchange in my own hometown of Winnipeg from January 22 to February 9, 2014.
The CBC reports that the play “tells the story of a writer haunted by his characters as he works in the Chelsea Hotel — but more importantly, it’ll feature Cohen hits like ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Hallelujah.’”
It had also better include “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” Cohen’s song about Janis Joplin and the things they got up to “on the unmade bed / while the limousines wait in the street.” I wonder how that’ll go down onstage.
We’re not sure if he’s going to be presented with the keys to the city, but we do know that March 15 has been officially declared Leonard Cohen Day in Milwaukee by Mayor Tom Barrett.
It’s not every day…or every year…or every decade that the legendary singer-songwriter plays Wisconsin’s largest city. So, his first performance there in 38 years is indeed a reason to celebrate.
Friday’s show at the Milwaukee Theatre is part of his “Old Ideas” 2012-2013 tour. Cohen, 78, is doing gigs in 12 cities in March alone, with the Milwaukee stop squeezed in between Chicago and Tampa.
Fans may refer to Cohen by one of his 156 (and counting) nicknames, like Lord Byron of Rock ‘n Roll, Poet of Holy Sinners, Troubadour of Travail and Maestro of Melancholy, but we can tell the people running Milwaukee know who he really is. He’s the guy who was “born to Nathan Cohen and Marsha Klonitsky” of Montreal, according to the second paragraph of the official Leonard Cohen proclamation:
The nominees for the 2013 Juno Awards have been announced, and among them are Jewish musicians Drake, Leonard Cohen, Adam Cohen and Toronto group Jaffa Road, which was nominated for Best World Music Album for “Where The Light Gets In.”
The Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys, will be given out on April 21 in a ceremony broadcasted from Regina, Saskatchewan hosted by vocalist Michael Bublé. It is sure to be a big night for all the nominated artists — some familiar to American music fans, and some less known outside Canada. The former include international sensations like Carly Rae Jepsen of “Call Me Maybe” fame and teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber. Pop and country singer-songwriter k.d. lang will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Toronto-born-and-bred hip-hop artist Drake, 26, recently scooped up his first Grammy for best Best Rap Album for “Take Care.” He is nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award. Director X (aka Julien Christian Lutz) is nominated for Video of the Year for Drake’s HYFR video.
Leonard Cohen, the legendary 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist is being recognized in a number of categories. The Montreal native is nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award, Artist of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year (for three songs on his “Old Ideas” album).
The tracks on Max Layton’s new album, “2 The Max,” are more stories than songs. Influenced by two of Canada’s greatest poets, his father Irving Layton and his close family friend Leonard Cohen, as well as his own interesting 66 years of existence, the singer-songwriter shares some hard-earned lessons on life and love set to a musical backdrop.
In this year, the centennial of his father’s birth, the Ontario-based Layton looks to the past and the future as he celebrates restored eyesight. It was a sudden onset of legal blindness a few years ago that prompted Layton to retreat into a private darkness to write his first album, “Heartbeat of Time.” His new album is a response to the restoration of his sight, thanks to “the miracles of modern medicine” as he writes in the CD’s liner notes.
Layton was taught as a young child to play guitar by Cohen, and has been playing and singing his whole life.
“My one constant was the guitar. I learned new songs wherever I went and played in coffee houses and on street corners whenever I got the chance,” he writes on his website.
“Old Ideas,” Leonard Cohen’s first album of new material since 2004’s “Dear Heather,” is set for a January 31 release. Cohen, now 77, is planning another tour to support the record.
Given the subpar quality of “Dear Heather” (as explicated in this review by John Jeremiah Sullivan), and the dodgy quality of Cohen’s later studio work, I admit to being skeptical about “Old Ideas,” despite the great title and my overall admiration for Cohen’s music.
Now one of the tracks from the album, “Show Me the Place,” is streaming online. Although it doesn’t reintroduce the instrumental minimalism of Cohen’s early recordings (as I had secretly been hoping it would), the arrangement is tasteful. Cohen’s voice, reaching towards an ever-lower register, sounds a bit rough, as befits his age. As for the words and melody, this doesn’t seem like a classic, but it’s certainly worth a listen. More promising is “The Darkness,” another track from the forthcoming album, not yet released in its studio version, but which Cohen has performed live. Listen to “Show Me the Place” and “The Darkness” below.
We were remiss in not wishing Leonard Cohen a happy birthday yesterday, but the 77-year-old Montreal poet, novelist and singer-songwriter has other consolations.
On October 11, Legacy Recordings will re-release 17 discs of Cohen’s back catalogue as a box set, including all of his studio albums and a few live ones, as well. The “Complete Albums Collection” will also include a 36-page booklet containing a 1,300 word essay by Pico Iyer.
As a personal tribute, though, I’d like to quote my favorite Leonard Cohen anecdote, about the 1972 “Songs of Love and Hate” tour, which comes from Ira Nadel’s 1998 biography, “Various Positions”:
Simon Dinnerstein discusses his monumental 1970s artwork, “The Fulbright Triptych.”
Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya’s “Daniel Stein, Interpreter,” a book that takes its inspiration from the real life Polish Jewish Partisan Oswald Rufeisen, is now available in English.
Ladino, the language of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora, has unfairly languished behind Yiddish in the Jewish language popularity sweepstakes. With the release of her 2009 U.K. album “Sentir” in the United States and an accompanying tour, including upcoming shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Israeli singer Yasmin Levy joins a bevy of artists trying to change that. Alongside artists like Sarah Aroeste, Judith Cohen and Flory Jagoda, Levy tries to channel a rich, transnational, historical genre for modern audiences. Like those artists, she has succeeded in evoking something distant and foreign. She has failed in similar ways too, producing another Ladino project trapped as a token of the past without bringing anything exciting and new to the table.
“Sentir,” Levy’s fifth album combining Ladino music with Andalucian Flamenco, is a far better exhibition of Levy’s voice that it is of the Judeo-Spanish musical history it weaves through over 12 tracks. Even when the songs blend into each other, melodies failing to distinguish themselves, Levy’s voice is commanding. On the opening track, “Mi Korason,” her voice quivers, slipping elusively behind and under and through the lyrics. On “Londje De Mi” she shows off her vocal mastery, flashily trilling or halting breathily, unfortunately illuminating how lackluster her musicians are by comparison.
Listen to ‘Mi Korason’:
Septuagenarian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen recently wrapped up a triumphant world tour (though he’ll be back on the road in March,) including a much-praised show in Tel Aviv in September. But apparently not everyone is a fan.
In a recent review of “Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight” for The Atlantic, former New York mayor and Forward advice columnist Ed Koch recalls going to see Cohen, whom he had never heard of before, play a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden:
“I did not particularly enjoy that concert and wondered if I would feel differently about Cohen and his talents if I didn’t have to pay such a hefty price to see him perform,” Koch writes.