Saturday, October 13, 2012

Leonard Cohen Covers: Chelsea Hotel

Lloyd Cole: Chelsea Hotel


Leonard Cohen says he now regrets linking his affair with Janis Joplin to this song. "The sole indiscretion in my private life" says this Ladies Man. Cohen's version is slow and funereal.

In his cover for 1991's I'm Your Fan tribute, Lloyd Cole speeds up the tune and brings in the hot band that supported him on those terrific early 90's albums: former Voidoids drummer Fred Mahar and the late Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine. There's a wistfulness there but not nearly as much regret. I like it better.

Leonard Cohen covers: The Future


I'll jump on the SMM bandwagon with the other weekly posters: I love Leonard Cohen covers but I don't particularly care for the originals. As a songwriter, he's pretty unparalleled, though. Here, Teddy Thompson, son of British folk-rockers Richard and Linda Thompson, turns Cohen's look into the future into an upbeat ode to dystopia. This horn- and chorus-filled live version was released on the 2006 tribute album "Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Leonard Cohen Covers: First We Take Manhattan

R.E.M.: First We Take Manhattan

[purchase Warnes’ version]
[purchase R.E.M. version, on a Cohen tribute album]

When I was young and knew everything, I knew that there was good music and bad music, just as there were good movies and bad movies, good paintings and bad paintings and good books and bad books. Now that I am older, I’m not sure anymore. I’ve come to the point where I think that there is some art that grabs you, emotionally, intellectually or in some other way, and others that just don’t. So, even if you can understand why critics or other people that you respect really like something, sometimes it just doesn’t resonate in the same way.

That’s the way I feel about the music of Leonard Cohen, and it is one of the reasons why I didn’t post early on Sunday, as has been my recent habit. I can recognize that he is a great songwriter and understand that he is a compelling performer. I understand that many artists that I really like, and people whose musical taste I hold in high regard, love the guy, but I can’t ever imagine deciding one day that I have to listen to Leonard Cohen. Which is not to say that if I decided to immerse myself in his substantial body of work, I wouldn’t emerge with a love of his music. But I don’t see myself being motivated to do that. I’m sure I’m missing out, but there is enough other good music out there to keep me occupied.

“First We Take Manhattan” is one of the Leonard Cohen songs that I like-there is a certain foreboding to its lyrics, supposedly about a German terrorist group. Jennifer Warnes, who I always sort of dismissed as a schlocky, film theme singing vocalist, until I noticed that she was actually quite talented (probably first when she sang on an Alejandro Escovedo album that I love), released the song before Cohen, in an excellent version featuring the late and lamented Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar. You can see him in the attached video. The later-released Cohen version has a synthy sound to it that I find a bit off-putting.

My wife and I were discussing situations where the cover was better than the original (“All Along The Watchtower,” for example). Here, although the “original” is a cover, I like Warnes’ version much better, and I apologize for not appreciating her.

I’ve also attached a version by R.E.M., which is also pretty good, from a Cohen tribute album.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Leonard Cohen Covers: Who by Fire


Your moderator, Darius, and I appear to have similar tastes: I really do not care much for Leonard Cohen. I have the utmost respect for him as an artist/songwriter, but, despite my “better half’s” quarter century efforts, I can’t get into his stuff. I find his music too soft and dark. Funny: Tom Waits is dark, but I like his music. And I have nothing against “soft” per se. But Cohen … sorry. Adding insult to injury, for the last few years, the man has decided to add Istanbul to his regular tour itinerary, so I face a yearly request to purchase tickets to a show I don’t care to see.

In fact, considering my aversion, I had resolved to sit this week out. But then, I couldn’t. Hope you’re glad I didn’t.

What I found is a version of “Who by Fire” from musicians that I cannot locate a lot of information about. Schonwald have an online presence at various music-related sites, but there is a paucity of personal detail. They appear to have been making music for several years (albums dating back to 2006 at least) and their online work includes YouTube videos that include a version of this song. But as for details about who, what and where …. virtually nothing. So, once again, here is your chance to show me up: let us know in the comments what you know about these musicians. The YouTube clips depict them as a M/F combo who primarily focus on studio work.

Part of what pushed me to go ahead with a Cohen post is the “drive” behind this version. Whereas Cohen takes it relatively easy in his renditions, these folks veer towards the harder side – edgier and, as a result,  much more to my liking.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Leonard Cohen Covers: Everybody Knows

The Duhks : Everybody Knows


Does everybody really know? One thing for certain is that The Duhks kick butt with this Leonard Cohen cover. Their highly-arranged Americana music draws inspiration from various genres. The Winnipeg quintet complemented its 2005 self-titled CD with several well-known guest artists (Paul Brady, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Abigail Washburn, Victor Wooten). The result was a tightly crafted, innovative mix of songs with haunting vocals and striking guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle and percussion. Even some low whistle and Uilleann pipes found their way into the caldron.

I like the way The Duhks blend tradition and individuality to create a signature sound. This juxtaposition of trad and contemporary is most emphasized by their covers from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Jez Lowe, Paul Brady and Sting. Blending genres, do you consider them “crossover” artists?

Creative artistry is built around the ability to free one's muse by building on your own influences and inspirations. The Duhks' approach allows for personal expression without belittling the very traditions they're stretching. Their reinvention of tradition is an amazing feat for these thirty-somethings whose journey takes us through joy, sorrow, inspiration, and even occasional humor.

The Duhks' proficient acousticians are Scott Senior (percussion), Jessica Havey (vocals), Leonard Podolak (banjo, fiddle), Tania Elizabeth (fiddle, mandolin), and Jordan McConnell (guitar, whistle, pipes). Whether serving up a beautiful, spiritual ballad or a rousing medley of reels, they manage to make each a part of greater "Duhkville."

With impressionistic and memorable songs like Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” their 2005 album was a great showcase for The Duhks' earthy bond between land and soul. From the looks of the video from the 2008 Magnolia Festival in Live Oak, Fl., they went ahead and closed their show with a raucous rendition of “Everybody Knows.” You gotta love their soulful vocals (even if a little loose in the video), slapped skins, wailing fiddle, flowing guitar, and buoyant banjo. With a plan to redefine both folk and pop music, The Duhks are doing it with their acoustic tools. I, for one, appreciate their conscious decision to not rely on electric instruments, synthesizers or drum machines. Everybody knows they won’t fit the vision. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

Birthstones => Leonard Cohen Covers: Diamonds in the Mine

[purchase album]

Being the moderator of Star Maker Machine is an honor, but it can sometimes put me in an odd position. Leonard Cohen is an artist who is important to many in a very personal way, and that certainly includes a large number of his fellow musicians. So he certainly deserves to have a week here devoted to his songs. The problem for me is that I never really got into Cohen’s work myself. I would venture to say that I know more of his songs from covers than from his originals, by far. And the original recordings that I have heard have not appealed to me that much. Cohen, it seems to me, often writes from a very dark place, and his performances are often deeply depressing to me. Cover versions of Cohen, however, are another matter entirely. Some are classics, and deservedly so, and we will probably hear some of those this week. But, more generally, it seems to me that many artists who cover Cohen pull away from the darkness somewhat, lightening the mood just enough to make the darkness bearable. Then, we as listeners can approach the songs safely, and the brilliance of the writing is fully revealed.

Which is all very nice, but almost the opposite happens with Elliott Murphy’s version of Diamonds in the Mine. Of course, I couldn’t resist doing a tie-in with last week’s theme when I saw the title of this one. But here, Cohen’s original is an almost joyous anthem, arranged for a full band with a chorus of female vocals. This creates an ironic clash between the arrangement and the lyric, which can be taken as either angry or despairing. Elliott Murphy strips the song down to an almost stark arrangement for just two acoustic guitars and voice. (If anyone knows who the second guitar player and background singer is, could you please tell everyone in the comments? Thanks.) So Murphy’s version brings out the full sadness of the lyric without the irony, but it breathes enough that it doesn’t come off as despairing. There is hurt here, but Murphy also allows the listener to feel hopeful.