Loads have been written about Leonard Cohen over the years, touting his poetic lyrics, craftman-like song writing, and his general all-around pimpness. But it wasn't until my very good friend Virginia Whittington forced me to watch I'm Your Man, the 2005 documentary about Mr. Cohen, that I began to really understand and appreciate the man and his music.

When I asked my father if he had any Leonard Cohen LPs, he was sure he did, but admitted to not having listened to them very often. Sometimes, you just don't jump on board with something. Like, I'm sure Devendra Banhart would just blow my mind, but I'll pass. (Although, if he's today's version of Leonard Cohen, I guess that makes Natalie Portman Janis Joplin?)

Anyway, Songs From a Room was Cohen's follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen. While not nearly as complete as his first record, Songs From a Room contains some real classics. The first cut, oft covered, is probably the best on the album.

[ mp3 ]: Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire

It's a great song, no doubt, but when I first heard the original recording, I did not react very well to Leonard's voice. It sounded thin to me. That's because in recent years, he's dropped from baritone to bass, the cigarettes have made him sound gruff and deep. But in a stroke of kismet, that lends even more gravity to these dark, pessimistic songs. He's like a fine, existentially troubling wine. Compare the 1969 recording to this live one from 2008:
Deeper, darker, and I say, better. But perhaps my favorite track on Songs From a Room is the closer, Tonight Will Be Fine.

[ mp3 ]: Leonard Cohen - Tonight Will Be Fine

I absolutely love this song. It's bouncy, almost jaunty, but the poem is anything but. It's quintessential Leonard Cohen, the crestfallen troubadour. He really knows how to subvert romanticism. He probably doesn't book too many wedding gigs.

Songs From a Room is a great record, but if you're just hearing of Leonard Cohen for the first time, you simply must buy/rent I'm Your Man.  Trust me, it will do for Leonard Cohen what I Am Trying to Break Your Heart did for Wilco, and what 30th Century Man did for Scott Walker. These are artists best approached with some kind of orientation to what they are 'all about.'  If you aren't yet convinced to go rent I'm Your Man, here's a little taster - one of the bonus scenes is Teddy Thompson covering Tonight Will Be Fine. It may be one of my favorite performances of all time.

If that doesn't move you, then I'm afraid I've got nothing else. BTW - great post from Sound on the Sound - Check it out...

- N.W.
11/21/2009 05:39:27 am

I was introduced to Leonard Cohen through the song "Famous Blue Raincoat", and I've been hooked ever since. Been meaning to pick this up, thanks for the reminder.

12/12/2009 10:56:00 am

I love Teddy Thompson covering Tonight Will Be Fine! It's such a beautiful song and he has the perfect voice to give it the soul it needs. The video is great! And I learned a little Spanish too! (subtitles were funny)


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