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Leonard Cohen is a master

October 1, 2010

This week I review Leonard Cohen's new live CD of songs culled from his two years of touring, "Songs From the Road."

The new CD, Cohen's second release of material from his globe-trotting tour, was recently released by Columbia/Legacy, the label Cohen has been with his entire, illustrious career.

Part shaman, part magician and part-singer songwriter/balladeer, Leonard Cohen's life's work began as a poet before being "discovered" as a singer/songwriter by svengali John Hammond in the 1960s.

Cohen, while not prolific, has garnered a huge and loyal following for his deeply unique and personal style penning some of the best songs of the genre, including "Bird on a Wire," "Suzanne" and the uplifting, majestic "Hallelujah," which I consider to be a minor miracle of song and verse and Cohen's finest hour.

Cohen had made a career out of writing literate, poetic songs rich in imagery and laden with hooks and drama. His somewhat vagabond lifestyle also is legendary along with his reputation as somewhat of a dandy, the moody poet/wanderer who leaves many love affairs in his wake.

Accurate or not, it's true Cohen spent part of the late 1990s and early 2000s as a student of Buddhism, delving deeply into the religion and Eastern philosophy. Never one to do anything halfway, Cohen spent several years engrossed in his studies before emerging with a series of new albums and a renewed interest in recording and even touring.

Renowned as an understated, charasmatic and elegant performer, Cohen has reached a place in the pantheon of legends with other moody singer/songwriters from the 1960s who have enjoyed second careers, along with Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson.

The songs on "Songs From the Road" feature some of the highlights from his long tour, including fabulous versions of "Bird on a Wire," "Waiting for a Miracle" - one of my personal favorites taken from Cohen's bleak and chillingly prophetic 1992 release "The Future" - and "Closing Time," a witty and warm chestnut that could read like a page from a book of Cohen's well-lived life.

It's hard to believe music so vital and quietly commanding could come from a man who recently celebrated his 76th birthday, but if anything, Cohen and his music have become more compelling over the years. Employing a deep and hypnotic baritone as his voice has dropped in pitch, Cohen understands the power of his voice and lyrics to emotionally move the listener, and he uses this to great effect on "Songs From the Road."

The CD includes a bonus DVD of backstage moments directed and shot by Cohen's daughter, Lorca Cohen. Her father proves to be a man of few words with an understated wit and simple, elegant grace.

If one word could sum up Cohen's terrific career and visionary music that would be it - grace. I highly recommend this album to any fan of Cohen or anyone interested in his music.

(Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)

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