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A Warm, Inventive Homage to Leonard Cohen.
on 18 March 2014
Having heard Christine Tobin sing Leonard Cohen songs before - "Everybody Knows" (which gets a new version here) has been a highlight of live sets; I was looking forward to hearing more and a whole album of this combination, is just a delight.
You get the poetry, the humour and clever writing of Leonard Cohen, but delivered with that wonderful voice and very clear, stripped-back arrangements. Nothing gets in the way and you hear every subtelty. The arrangments are a masterpiece of understated musicality. Phil Robson on guitar is main collaborator - although he gives way to Gwilym Simcock's piano on an incredibly slow "Anthem". Guitar though, provides rhythmic backing and the occasional brilliantly economical solo.
The basic unit is Robson on guitar joined by Dave Whitford's sinuous double bass playing, with Adriano Asewale on percussion - giving huge amounts of space to the songs, with an uncluttered approach - no unecessary playing here, every brushstroke is perfect. Huw Warren provides occasional colour with accordion, sounding folky or central European on "Take this Waltz".
There is an amazing shift in gear and continents, as that track evokes an Austro-Hungarian waltz, only to be followed by a South African "township" style grooove for "Suzanne". This becomes a real highlight of the set and is as far away from the dirge-y stle of the original as you could get, while still being recognisably the same song. It was a standing joke in the 60s and 70s that "Suzanne" was the most depressing song inaginable - but here it is up-beat and maybe even, funky.
With each tune, you get a new appreciation for the song-writing and also the imagination used in the arrangments. "Tower of Song" goes to all sorts of unexpected places and harmonies and is another highlight. Having said that, each tune is a minature masterpiece, crafted with love and attention to detail. There are elements of Jazz and other genres, but everything is directed towards providing the best showcase for voice and the songs.
The recording is incredibly clear and no detail is lost. Christine Tobin is on top form and these songs and arrangements form the perfect set to demonstrate her talents, while the band inject new life into every tune. I must agree with Neil Spencer's review in the Observer : "the album, artfully played, has a poised, emotional coherence; a warm, inventive homage." Highly recommended.