Monday, April 7, 2008

a few words concerning Leonard Cohen

There are a few songwriters who really seem to stay with me as I get older, both as a source of inspiration and as source of continual fascination. Leonard Cohen is one of those. He came to songwriting as an established poet, and it was Bob Dylan's success that convinced him that there was room for poetry in popular music. The songwriters who drift between the roles of poet and songwriter have always been the ones that draw me in the most. On this current project, I have tried to put together a track list that highlights some of my tunes with the biggest aspirations, poetically speaking. Whether they succeed or fail is for the listener to decide. As Cohen himself often says: "poetry is a verdict."

Recently, I have been working on a cover version of Cohen's "Hallelujah." I tend to avoid covering really popular songs, because I find it difficult to find a new way to sing them...when so many different voices have already mined every aspect and turned over every possibility in a given song, it gets harder and harder to bring something new to the table. The more popular a song is, it seems to me to be harder to find a "way in" to the song as performer...maybe that means I am not much of a performer, I dunno... Anyway, many people are familiar with Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah": in terms of cover versions Buckley basically hit a home run. He took the implicit melodic dynamics in Cohen's version and took them into the outer reaches of music-space. In other words, his version drips with intense emotion and unbridled passion. I have long avoided approaching this song because I know I could never sing like that, and I did not see another way "in" to the song...until now...basically I am mellowing out the tune a little, strumming it a bit like Bob Marley might (or maybe like Daniel Johnston playing his song "True Love Will Find You In The End"), sort of a bouncy rhythm that takes the drama meter down a bit. Mellowing it out a bit allows me (and the audience) to focus on the lyrics more, and oh what beautiful lyrics. Here is Leonard performing the song:

Leonard almost speaks the words, and all of that melodic potential bristles just beneath the surface of his voice. That is probably a big reason performers like to cover him so much: the original versions suggest so many possibilities regarding how to emphasize/rework/stretch out, etc. the melodies in the song.

Anyway, recording of my solo album has been a little delayed recently, but we will be back on track in a couple of weeks. I am excited and hopeful to move onward with the process, and optimistic that more album-oriented updates here will follow very soon. Enjoy the beginning of Spring!

P.S. For you Cohen fans, he is actually touring this year (!)...more info can be found here.