I thought I'd leave some time between buying this CD and reviewing it, as Leonard Cohen is never an artist who does the obvious. I bought this as soon as it was advertised and it was in my CD layer within a minute of being delivered. I listened and was baffled. How could a man who had produced the finest music for a generation come out with (as some early reviewers described it) a collection of half-finished outtakes. I forced myself to listen to it again. Then I listened to it again, and again, ...and again. And I realised that with the exception of 'On That Day' (which is still a beautiful and evocative song about 9/11) these are not just songs thrown together, but a long-thought collection of poems. Leonard all but strips away the music. There are no guitar riffs, piano rolls or clever base lines. The lyrics are all that really matter and they are astounding. And as for the title track, 'Dear Heather'. The first time I heard it I thought it was a joke. I now find it is my all-time favorite from Cohen and this CD is never out of my car. Listen, listen and listen again. This is not just music, it's art.
I'm a late-comer to Leonard Cohen and it was the slinky soulfulness of '10 New Songs' that first got me listening. 'Dear Heather' has one or two tracks that would fit easily on that album but generally is far more varied, intriguing, and ultimately more interesting. The growling voice is deeper than ever, and is once again augmented by female support. On the tracks where he more or less recites poems he forces concentration on the words by repetition and simple musical arrangement, creating a powerful atmosphere on 'Villanelle For our Time' especially. By turns funny, sad, libidinous and political, this is an album of varying mood but consistent quality (although the final live track feels irrelevant). 'Dear Heather' is likely to annoy some, it feels resolutely un-commercial and it is undeniably challengingly varied. But to my ears it sounds like an artist comfortable with producing the songs and moods he wants without corporate blandification. Unique and characterful, not better than '10 New Songs' but richer in many ways.
Like some of the other reviewers my initial reaction to "Dear Heather" was surprise and disappointment: having also recently bought "Ten new songs" I had expected something similar. I listened once and then put my reactions on hold. The next day I tried again, this time knowing I had something different in store. I played the disc through twice and my initial disappointment began to change. Now (a week after purchase) I have got to know, like and enjoy all of the tracks. Some I still find a bit mystifying (e.g. the title track), but all are worth listening to. The range is in my opinion greater than in many other Cohen discs and it is different in tone - but it certainly rewards perseverence. Currently I would give it 4* but this continues to rise!
Quite simply, this is a delightful album. With all of Cohens trademarks, the gruff voice, introspective lyrics, slow paced and low key arrangements, it is a great follow up to his acclaimed `ten new songs'.
The arrangements are particularly lovely here. The backing vocals and music has an elegiac, church like quality at times, reminding one that Cohen is a part time monk. A deep feeling of peace falls over the listener as the graceful background harmonies draw you in, then you just get lost in Cohen's world as his unique vocals draw you into his world with tales of love and life, tinged with regret and humour in equal measure.
In tone and style it is quite different to Cohen's early output, but this is no bad thing. Life is about change and evolving, and Cohen's style has definitely evolved through the years, with each new album another step along his road of discovery. It is a journey without a destination, and we should be thankful for being allowed to follow. Some people dislike the change, but personally I think his albums are all the better for it - we'd have all got bored long ago if every album he ever made sounded just like the last one.
An excellent album, one that I could recommend to anyone. Five stars.
Leonard Cohen knows a thing or two about God, not the god of beliefs and dogmas (although I wager LC knows about that too), but the god of the heart, the one which is revealed only through that process of attrition which life seems to present us with over and over again. This album points another shining path towards that truth. Dear Heather joins Ten New Songs as a beacon for everyday mystics trying to make sense of the world. Cohen sings of his heart 'the shape of a begging bowl'. In 'Morning Glory' he dialogues with himself, yearning for the 'transcendental moment' which finally comes 'Oh the morning glory! Oh the morning glory! Oh the morning glory!'. And as always he always reminds us that this is not a saccharine sentimental state, but one hard won 'From the bitter searching of the heart' (taking poetry of Frank Scott here). And he reminds of the sacrifice of ego needed on the path 'It was never me, It was always you' he sings on There for You, a blissful collaboration with Sharon Robinson. Well, musically I can not say a lot about the album as it is the lyrics which matter to me. Other people will review the musicality better than I can. But I like it. It soothes me. There is an incredible beauty to the melding of the women's voices and style with Cohen's. Would it be going too far to wonder if this represents some sort of resolution of Cohen's own perplexity around the interraction of men and women? There is certainly a tenderness and harmoniousness which although begun on Ten New Songs seems to be taken further in this album. There are tender love songs here too, more obviously about an earthy beloved than a divine one (although the catagories merge with Cohen, always). As with Ten New Songs the poetry of the songs on this album works on the heart at a level which is not cognitive. It is much more subtle. This album is a winner for Cohen fans, naturally. If you have not heard Cohen before, but like poetry, buy this. If you have not heard Cohen before but are on a spiritual path, buy this. Thank you Leonard, for more sublime, heartfilling moments.
Much more varied than Ten New Songs, Dear Heather sounds patchy at first listen. But repeated spins reveal the beauty and the cohesive themes of the album. Lord Byron's poem, Go No More A Roaming, sets the mood, with lovely backing by Sharon Robinson. The enigmatic Because Of, with its repeated refrain "Look at me Leonard/One last time" is a beautiful blend of eros and thanatos, spiced by wry humour and embellished with the beautiful voice of Anjani Thomas. Simplicity rules on The Letters where Sharon Robinson and LC share the vocals, sometimes solo, sometimes together. With its sparse instrumentation, Undertow has a dreamy melody and evocative imagery with Thomas taking the female vocal. Morning Glory is another oneiric soundscape with tinkling keyboards and spoken vocals framed by the divine female voice. The most poignant moment on the album is On That Day (They Wounded New York), an elegant, lilting song with hypnotic harp textures. Villanelle For Our Time, written by Frank Scott, is a spoken poem with memorable lines like: "From bitter searching of the heart/We rise to play a greater part." The title track is a delightful love song with innovative arrangement including harp and trumpet, and playful vocals. One to whistle in the bath. With its catchy tune and lovely harmonies, Nightingale is a little folk-pop gem with main vocal by Thomas, whilst To A Teacher is another recited poem. The sound of The Faith resembles that of the album Recent Songs, with Raffi Hakopian on violin and John Bilezikjian on the lute. This is very moving, like a graceful farewell. The albums ends, surprisingly but fittingly, with a 1985 live version of Tennessee Waltz, raw and powerful in its rootsy country delivery. The song receives Leonard's addendum, a third verse in his own poetic style. Some people are forever stuck on Cohen's 1960s style. They don't like Death Of A Ladies' Man and they dissed Ten New Songs, so they won't appreciate this one either. I consider it a masterpiece with his genius expressed in a refreshing variety of styles and timeless songs. Dear Heather might well be the last proper Leonard Cohen studio album. If so, what a moving farewell.
when i heard "10 new songs" i was convinced that cohen had produced his finest work. perhaps i still think that - i'm not sure - for it is indeed a masterpiece, and even though it's sat in my collection for three years, coming out every time i need to re-examine my inner landscape, it has never lost the power to move me. the "perhaps" is because i have now heard "dear heather" approximately 20 times.... for three nights now i have sat late, writing, drinking wine, listening to heather on the loop...and i can report that that old familiar cohen inspired ache is just as it should be. there is a line through our souls, those of us of a certain age, a line that began when we carried dog eared copies of "songs of leonard cohen" under our arm as we slouched around school corridors...etched forever by the third stanza of "suzanne"... articulated through the sleepy golden storm of hair upon our pillow created by last night's lover... we all wanted to be birds on a wire and when in our later years we wept to hallelujah, waltzed our mouths to the dew of her thighs, or dreamed of taking berlin, it was cohen who gave us the words to express our secret wishes and desires... like some shy one at an orgy that line has, in middle age touched us again... we wish with all of our hearts that it was us who because of a few songs had earned the right to receive kindness in our old age from women.... long for white legged heather to walk by... and deep inside us resonate with the simple logic that explains that the wounding of new york is indeed too complex an issue to allow mere mortals like us to claim insight or knowledge about either the cause or the effect.... and we have all at times sent our address in flares, bottles and messages from our own raging flood to the one woman who might have saved us..... as i say the line touches us all.... mr cohen thank you for writing the soundtrack to my life.... and thank you for giving me assurance that when i'm 70 i will still have a meaning, insight and a strong libido
Far more varied than Ten New Songs, Dear Heather sounds patchy at first listen. But repeated spins reveal the subtle layers of beauty and the cohesive themes of the album. Lord Byron's poem, Go No More A Roaming, sets the mood, with lovely backing by Sharon Robinson. The enigmatic Because Of, with its repeated refrain "Look at me Leonard/One last time" is a beautiful blend of eros and thanatos, spiced by wry humor and embellished with the beautiful voice of Anjani Thomas.
Simplicity rules on The Letters where Sharon Robinson and Cohen share the vocals, sometimes solo, sometimes in duet. With its sparse instrumentation, Undertow has a dreamy melody and stirring imagery with Thomas taking the female vocal. Morning Glory is another oneiric soundscape with tinkling keyboards and spoken vocals framed by the divine female voice. The most moving moment on the album is On That Day (They Wounded New York), an elegant, lilting song with hypnotic harp textures.
Villanelle For Our Time, written by Frank Scott, is a spoken poem with memorable lines like: "From bitter searching of the heart/We rise to play a greater part." The title track is a delightful love song with innovative arrangement including harp and trumpet, and playful vocals. With its catchy tune and lovely harmonies, Nightingale is a little folk-pop gem with main vocal by Thomas, whilst To A Teacher is another recited poem. The sound of The Faith resembles that of the album Recent Songs, with Raffi Hakopian on violin and John Bilezikjian on the lute. This is very moving, like a graceful goodbye.
The albums ends, surprisingly but fittingly, with a 1985 live version of Tennessee Waltz, raw and powerful in its rootsy country delivery. The song receives Leonard's addendum, a third verse in his own poetic style. Some people are forever stuck on Cohen's 1960s style. They don't like Death of a Ladies' Man and they dissed Ten New Songs, so they won't appreciate this one either. I consider it a masterpiece with his genius expressed in a refreshing variety of styles and timeless songs. Dear Heather might well be the last proper Leonard Cohen studio album. If so, what a memorable farewell it will be.
Leonard Cohen's 70th birthday present to us is much wider in range than his last issue 'Ten New Songs'and is slightly weaker for it. Collaboration seems to be the name of the game, not just with vocalists (Leanne Ungar joining 'regular' Sharon Robinson) but also in the writing - no less than one Lord Byron pens the first track, a further four are co-written by the vocalists, another is a Quebec folk song and the final is a live rendition of the Pee Wee King's perennial 'Tennessee Waltz'. Does this suggest a waning of the talent or a diminshing muse? Well it certainly reveals a breakdown of the singing voice - Cohen growls so deeply that the vocalists seem to be employed just to carry any semblance of a tune. Indeed he recites rather than sings on two tracks. But this is his strength he, more than Dylan, is a poet who cuts albums. And there is no-one like him doing this sort of stuff, that's why it must be treasured. Four stars and not five? Two reasons; firstly there is nothing approaching the sublime 'Alexandria Leaving' from the last album, secondly there is one duff track, the title track in fact, in which just 21 words are repeated and spelt to an over ironically infantile backing track. I could add a third that there is simply not enough of HIS poetry (for that's what it is) compared to his other albums. Will he make another? I feel that there are clues, other than the senility of his vocal chords - in the track 'Because of' the words "Look at me Leonard / Look at me one last time" are repeated ominously often and in the final studio track, the wonderful 'The Faith' the refain "...aren't you tired yet?" is again uttered often enough to make us ponder. If he does retire from music then this is a fitting tribute to a man who has achieved the highest poetic consistency of any singer song writer (and yep I do include Dylan)of the last four decades.
This is a very good album, although a little bit of a slow grower even to a long-standing Leonard Cohen fan. Over time, I found that individual tracks grew to be my favourite - always a good sign of a high quality album. A pleasure to see someone with good music and thoughtful lyrics still out there in this day and age - and sung as if he believes in them (his voice ever deeper and moving). Excellent contribution with vocals and composition from Sharon Robinson and the beautiful voice and arrangement of Anjani Thomas. The tracks are nicely varied, and carry different messages from the deep and moving to the simple fun. Perhaps the first track and the last track were a little less pleasing but the others are still Cohen in his prime.