Saturday, 25 March 2017

"The Complete Studio Albums Collection" by LEONARD COHEN (October 2011 Sony/Legacy 11CD Box Set - Mark Wilder and Bruce Dickinson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...








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"...Diamonds In The Mine..."

As others have quite rightly commented - it's a triple-whammy - great music, great price and stunning remastered audio for Montreal's finest.

These eleven Leonard Cohen Columbia Records studio albums stretching from 1967's "Songs Of Leonard Cohen" through to 2004's "Dear Heather" are presently clocking in at less than two quid a pop (March 2017) - which given what's on offer here is utterly remarkable - 'new skin for the old ceremony' indeed. The only missing LP is April 1973's "Live Songs" because it's outside this box set's remit.

His deeply sad passing in November 2016 saw the loss of yet another style-setting songsmith from back in the day – Canada's great mumbling lover man – Leonard Cohen. Always bigger in the UK and Europe than he was in Canada and the States - his deep tonal voice and tales of forlorn love struck a mighty chord in Blighty especially. Not for everyone for sure - but those who loved his articulate wallowing did so with a passion bordering on mania. Sisters Of Mercy named their band after a song on his 1967 debut - while everyone from Tori Amos and Jennifer Warnes to Jeff Buckley, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Neil Diamond, Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, Joe Cocker, Eddie Kendricks, Don Henley, Nick Cave, Roberta Flack, James Taylor, Suzanne Vega, Peter Gabriel and Madeleine Peyroux (amongst many) has covered his lonesome pine tunes. Jeff Buckley practically owns the beautiful and ethereal "Hallelujah" and every Indie Movie its ever been featured in (a UK No 1 while Cohen was still with us). And all of this is yours for less than twenty-two UK pre-Brexit smackers. Let's get to the various musical positions before someone out there in overpriced digital 'la la land' notices the wrong envelope...

UK released 9 October 2011 - "The Complete Studio Albums Collection" by LEONARD COHEN on Sony/Legacy 88697961772 (Barcode 886979617728) is an 11CD Box Set of New Remasters with a 24-page booklet that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 - "Songs Of Leonard Cohen" (1967) - 41:38 minutes:
1. Suzanne
2. Master Song
3. Winter Lady
4. The Stranger Song
5. Sisters Of Mercy
6. So Long, Marianne [Side 2]
7. Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye
8. Stories Of The Street
9. Teacher
10. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong
Tracks 1 to 10 are his Columbia Records debut album "Songs Of Leonard Cohen" - released December 1967 in the USA on Columbia CL 2733 (Mono) and Columbia CS 9533 (Stereo) and February 1968 in the UK on CBS Records BPG 63241 (Mono) and CBS Records S BPG 63241 (Stereo) - the STEREO mix is used. Produced by JOHN SIMON - it peaked at No. 80 in the USA and No. 13 in the UK.

Disc 2 - "Songs From A Room" (1969) - 36:15 minutes:
1. Bird On The Wire
2. Story Of Isaac
3. A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes
4. The Partisan
5. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
6. The Old Revolution [Side 2]
7. The Butcher
8. You Know Who I Am
9. Lady Midnight
10. Tonight Will Be Fine
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Songs From A Room" - released April 1969 in the USA on Columbia CS 9767 (Stereo only) and in the UK on CBS Records M 63587 (Mono) and CBS Records S 63587 (Stereo) - the STEREO mix is used. Produced by BOB JOHNSTON - it peaked at No. 63 in the USA and No. 2 in the UK.

Disc 3 - "Songs Of Love And Hate" (1971) - 45:02 minutes:
1. Avalanche
2. Last Year's Man
3. Dress Rehearsal Rag
4. Diamonds In The Mine
5. Love Calls You By Your Name [Side 2]
6. Famous Blue Raincoat
7. Sing Another Song, Boys
8. Joan Of Arc
Tracks 1 to 8 are his 3rd studio album "Songs Of Love And Hate" - released March 1971 in the USA on Columbia C 30103 and in the UK on CBS Records S 69004 (Stereo only in both cases). Produced by BOB JOHNSTON - it peaked at No. 145 in the USA and No. 4 in the UK.

Disc 4 - "New Skin For The Old Ceremony" (1974) - 37:28 minutes:
1. Is This What You Wanted
2. Chelsea Hotel No. 2
3. Lover Lover Lover
4. Field Commander Cohen
5. Why Don't You Try
6. This Is A War [Side 2]
7. A Singer Must Die
8. I Tried To Leave You
9. Who By Fire
10. Take This Longing
11. Leaving Green Sleeves
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 4th studio album "New Skin In The Old Ceremony" - released August 1974 in the USA on Columbia C 33167 and in the UK on CBS Records S 69087. Produced by JOHN LISSAUER - it peaked at No. 24 in the UK (didn't chart in the USA).

Disc 5 - "Death Of A Ladies' Man" (1977) - 42:53 minutes:
1. True Love Leaves No Traces
2. Iodine
3. Paper-Thin Hotel
4. Memories
5. I Left A Woman Waiting [Side 2]
6. Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On
7. Fingerprints
8. Death Of A Ladies' Man
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "Death Of A Ladies' Man" - released October 1977 in the USA on Warner Brothers BS 3125 and November 1977 in the UK on CBS Records S CBS 86042. Arranged and Produced by PHIL SPECTOR - the album peaked at No. 35 in the UK (didn't chart USA).

Disc 6 - "Recent Songs" (1979) - 53:26 minutes:
1. The Guests
2. Humbled In Love
3. The Window
4. Came So Far For Beauty
5. The Lost Canadian (Un Canadien Errant)
6. The Traitor [Side 2]
7. Our Lady Of Solitude
8. The Gypsy's Wife
9. The Smokey Life
10. Ballad Of The Absent Mare
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Recent Songs" - released September 1979 in the USA on Columbia JC 36264 and in the UK On CBS Records 86097. Produced by LEONARD COHEN and HENRY LEWY - it didn't chart in either country.

Disc 7 - "Various Positions" (1985) - 35:32 minutes:
1. Dance Me To The End Of Love
2. Coming Back To You
3. The Law
4. Night Comes On
5. Hallelujah [Side 2]
6. The Captain
7. Hunter's Lullaby
8. Heart With No Companion
9. If It Be Your Will
Tracks 1 to 9 are his album "Various Positions" - released February 1985 in the USA on Passport PB 6045 and in the UK on CBS Records 26222. Produced by JOHN LISSAUER - it peaked at No. 52 in the UK (didn't chart USA).

Disc 8 - "I'm Your Man" (1988) - 41:00 minutes:
1. First We Take Manhattan
2. Ain't No Cure For Love
3. Everybody Knows
4. I'm Your Man
5. Take This Waltz [Side 2]
6. Jazz Police
7. I Can't Forget
8. Tower Of Song
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "I'm Your Man" - released February 1988 in the USA on Columbia FC 44191 (LP) and Columbia CK 44191 (CD) and in the UK and Europe on CBS Records 460642 1 (LP) and 460642 2 (CD). Produced by LEONARD COHEN - it peaked at No. 48 in the UK charts (didn't chart USA)

Disc 9 - "The Future" (1992) - 59:42 minutes:
1. The Future
2. Waiting For The Miracle
3. Be For Real
4. Closing Time
5. Anthem
6. Democracy [Side 2]
7. Light As The Breeze
8. Always
9. Tacoma Trailer
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "The Future" - released November 1992 in the USA on Columbia CK 53226 (CD Only) and in the UK/Europe on Columbia COL 472498 1 (LP) and COL 472498 2 (CD). Various Producers (including Leonard Cohen) - it peaked at No. 36 on the UK charts (didn't chart USA).

Disc 10 - "Ten New Songs" (2001) - 52:47 minutes:
1. In My Secret Life
2. A Thousand Kisses Deep
3. That Don't Make It Junk
4. Here It Is
5. Love Itself
6. By The Rivers Dark [Side 2]
7. Alexandra Leaving
8. You Have Loved Enough
9. Boogie Street
10. The Land Of Plenty
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Ten New Songs" - released October 2001 in the USA on Columbia C 85953 (LP) and CK 85953 (CD) and in the UK/Europe on Columbia COL 501202 1 (LP) and COL 501202 2 (CD). Produced by SHARON ROBINSON with all songs arranged and co-written by Robinson with Leonard Cohen - it peaked at No. 143 in the USA and No. 26 in the UK.

Disc 11 - "Dear Heather" - 49:27 minutes:
1. Go No More A-Roving
2. Because Of
3. The Letters
4. Undertow
5. Morning Glory
6. On That Day
7. Villanelle For Our Time
8. There For You
9. Dear Heather
10. Nightingale
11. To A Teacher
12. The Faith
13. Live Track: Tennessee Waltz
Tracks 1 to 11 are his album "Dear Heather" - released November 2004 in the USA on Columbia CK 92891 (CD) and in the UK/Europe on Columbia COL 514768 2 (CD).

Produced for Sony/Legacy by Steve Berkowitz and Bruce Dickinson - pages 2 to 5 of the 24-page booklet feature new liner notes from novelist and fan PICO LYER - while the remaining pages offer basic track lists, some musician credits and three or four black and white photos of Cohen during various stages of his career. It's nice but hardly great or in-depth. Excepting the gatefold of 1977's "Diary Of A Ladies' Man" - each album is in a singular card sleeve as per their original vinyl/CD releases - but there's no inserts or the mini booklet that accompanied "Songs Of Love And Hate" - that sort of thing (not reproduced in the booklet either). There's no real analysis of the albums in the booklet - hell they can't even be bothered to put the LP release dates anywhere (you get more info from my lists than you do in here).

But all of that goes out the presentation window when you clap your ears on the wonderful new Remasters. MARK WILDER and BRUCE DICKINSON are the Audio Engineers behind each album (all done at Battery Studios in New York) except "Dear Heather" which doesn't need any work and was originally mastered by STEPHEN MARCUSSEN (he did all the Polydor CD reissues for The Rolling Stones in 2009). Many of these albums have eluded Remaster for years - so it's a welcome Audio haul that's for sure.

The first two platters made his name containing songs synonymous with that moaning Leonard Cohen voice - "Suzanne", "Sisters Of Mercy", "So Long, Marianne" and "Bird On The Wire" – a song so popular Tim Hardin named an entire album after it in 1971. The Stereo clarity on album gems like the Simon & Garfunkel acoustic "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" – or the weary army types aching to tell their story in "A Bunch Of Lonesome Heroes" (that fuzz guitar) and the slaughtering of lambs in "The Butcher" where an only son doesn't like nor understand what daddy does for a day job - so it's off to meet up with an understanding man who will painlessly needle the pain away.

For the "Songs Of Love And Hate" sessions in 1971 Producer Bob Johnston brought in the Guitarist from West - Ron Cornelius - as the principal player (he’d also strummed on Dylan’s "New Morning" LP earlier in 1971). And along with Paul Buckmaster who’d arranged strings for Elton John and David Bowie – you also got Southern Rocker Charlie Daniels later of The Charlie Daniels Band contributing Guitar, Bass and Fiddle.

It seemed that between the eighteen months since the last LP "Songs From A Room" in April 1969 – Cohen’s vocal range had dipped even lower. I say this because although the first two sparse albums get all the 4 to 5-star accolades - I find his deeper tone on this album to be the best of all that period. Lyrically too – whether it be the acoustic guitar tumble of the opener "Avalanche" or the six-minutes of "Dress Rehearsal Rag" – his words flowed like wise poetry – a very Dylanesque string of consciousness that was both sleepy and ever so slightly drugged-up. There is gorgeous audio on "Diamonds In The Mine" – where there are no grapes on the vine or chocolates in the box – an acidic growling song about Christians getting eaten and doctors sterilising needles (nice).

Things return to that pretty drone of his with "Love Calls You By Your Name" – where lyrics talk about open oceans and even more open veins – women in scrapbooks to be praised and blamed as Paul Buckmaster pours on those trademark strings. In 1986 Jennifer Warners would start the first of three tribute albums to LC by calling hers after the next famous song - "Famous Blue Raincoat" (check out the CDs for “I’m Your Fan” in 1991 and "Tower Of Song" in 1995). Corlynn Hanney and Susan Mussman are the female vocalists who provide those beautiful counterpoint vocals sailing over his story of Jane – while Buckmaster keeps the horns and strings so subtle and therefore so moving. "Famous Blue Raincoat" is worth the price of admission alone.

Suddenly sounding like a drunk Dr. John has mated with an acidic Dory Previn – 1974's "New Skin For The Old Ceremony" opens with "Is That What You Wanted" where ghosts of every relationship he's every had haunt his present day fling. He remembers another lady well in the "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" – giving him hell on the unmade bed to the sound of a forlorn French horn. He would call a live set "Field Commander Cohen" in 2000 – throwing acid into diplomatic cocktail parties while elegant types engage in bored silver-bullet suicides (nice). My fave on this dark album is "I Tried To Leave You" where his lone Spanish guitar strums as he once again bemoans his fate – waking up beside her lithesome bod (what a guy).

Album number 5 "Death Of A Ladies' Man" provides the first 'oh dear' moment where he collaborated with the frankly potty Phil Spector. Despite heavy hitters like Bob Dylan, Alan Ginsberg and Bill Diex providing backing vocals on "Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On" - while singer-songwriter, actress and Director Ronee Blakley stumped up Backing Vocals on "True Love Leaves No Traces", "Iodine" and "Memories" with Nino Tempo arranging "Iodine" and "I Left A Woman Waiting" – Phil Spector's typically heavy-handed and over-the-top production values did for the LP. He also claimed co-credit on every song (guns at dawn boys). Even the artwork seemed vaguely arrogant - sided by two lovelies in some Polynesian restaurant as all concerned are gradually lost post-desert in a blizzard of Peruvian dancing dust. In the USA in particular "Death..." was a commercial disaster coming in for some serious media derision, anger from a jaded and bewildered public and even had the artist himself publicly acknowledging its excesses some years later.

Cohen got back to 'humbled in love' songs for 1979's "Recent Songs" - a highly polished long album featuring a huge array of quality Latin sessionmen complimented by Garth Hudson of The Band on Piano, the Bassist Abraham Loboriel and Jennifer Warnes on Harmony Vocals. Of the later albums – like most I return to the sophisticated career rejuvenating "I'm Your Man" and dip occasionally into the ragged songs on "The Future" and beyond. But I must admit I go back now mostly to the forgotten record "Various Positions" – the birthing ground for the immortal "Hallelujah". Despite its 80ts production – I'm partial to "Dance Me To The End Of Love" which Madeleine Peyroux did so beautifully on her "Careless Love" CD. And of course you can't hear "Hallelujah" nowadays without thinking of Jeff Buckley and his fabulous "Grace" album. How Jeff stripped down that song and made it almost hymnal is astonishing. Cohen's "Various Positions" LP ends on the beautiful audio of "If It Be Your Will" - where Jennifer Warnes provides duet vocals that are so spot on – it's scary.

"...I sing this for the captain...for the heart with no companion...for the soul with no King..." – Leonard Cohen moaned on the deceptively lovely and moving "Heart With No Companion" in 1985 – just as he'd done in 1967 and would continue to do for decades more – always winning the crowd quietly - majestically.

A simply 'Best Of' or the 2CD 'Essential' set of Leonard Cohen Remasters will probably suffice for most. But this is one of those occasions where you can get so much more quality music for not a lot more outlay.

And you can’t help thinking that the great mumbler/chronicler of love and heartbreak would have liked that - and given his lowly finances in the later years - giggled at the irony of it too...

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