It shouldn’t need to be said that Leonard Cohen was one of the finest songwriters during his lifetime. A poet and spiritualist, he saw the world in engrossing clarity and captured lyricism that was deeply moving, singular, and unmatched.
He wasn’t so much a pop icon as a hero to writers everywhere, and a new tribute to his legacy, from Blue Note Records, is out this week. Titled Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, the disc collects renditions of his most popular work, performed by a roster of artists who are all, themselves, excellent songwriters.
There are masterful performances throughout the recording, from James Taylor, Nathaniel Rateliff, Peter Gabriel, David Gray, and others.
Norah Jones’s turn on “Steer Your Way,” which opens the disc, feels the most like a second coming of the poet himself. Jones has that spooky, whispered nuance down to an art. Only in this song does it become clear that her vocal delivery is perhaps the way it is because of Cohen’s influence.
“Hallelujah,” which has become one part of the canon of songs big-voiced people sing to show off the extremities of their range, is yet delivered here by Sarah McLachlan. Her voice is capable of all the same extremities, but her restraint allows her space to paint with more colors. She does so beautifully. Even folks who are tired of hearing “Hallelujah” may have their faith renewed by her version.
Iggy Pop’s “You Want It Darker,” taken from Cohen’s last recording, is an interesting accomplishment. Backed by saxophone, keys, and percussion, Pop mostly just recites the lyrics. But there is a ghostly quality that comes forward. A reverent resignation to the form.
Other easy highlights are Mavis Staples’s “If It Be Your Will” and Bill Frisell’s “Bird on the Wire,” which
closes the set.
It’s lucky for the tribute that Cohen’s songs are so strong, they hold their center no matter who is singing. Longtime fans may be just as pleased to go listen to the man himself. But folks who are looking for a door into his genius will be duly satisfied here.
Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen is available HERE.