Leonard Cohen

By - Dec 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By John Hughes

In the song “On That Day,” Leonard Cohen – arguably the wisest man in music – addresses September 11, 2001. Original perspective, even revelation, is expected from a writer such as Cohen, tangling with that subject.

The song lasts all of two minutes and four seconds, is highlighted by the playing of a weirdly comic Jew’s Harp, and concludes with the underwhelming question, “Did you go crazy/or did you report/on that day/they wounded New York?”

So much for revelation.

That disappointment sets the tone for Dear Heather. The disc sounds like the career of 70-year-old Cohen ending not with a bang but with a shrug. It’s a grab bag of songs marred by the preponderance of too many brief and minor sketches by the old master, and it fails to add up to much despite some strong moments.

Cohen augments his case with a few of the 13 songs: “Go No More A-Roving,” “Villanelle For Our Time,” “Morning Glory,” and “The Faith” recall the Leonard of old-playful, sagacious, penetrating, and moving.  The singing of Anjani Thomas and Sharon Robinson helps a lot, especially because Cohen’s own singing here is even more melancholy than usual. The occasional piano playing of Thomas and the tasteful saxophone renderings of Bob Sheppard contribute musicality. But much of the album achieves little more than easy-listening status, and the record requires only that you listen to it with one ear, rather than the usual full engagement.

Dear Heather concludes with a bizarre live version of “Tennessee Waltz,” a lurch into country music as unsettling as YoYo Ma trying his hand at rock and roll might be.  What was he thinking?

It’s ultimately desultory, sometimes pretty, and disposable.

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