Saturday, November 23, 2019

Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance

Thanks for the Dance
Columbia/Legacy Records

Three years ago, Leonard Cohen released You Want It Darker. As I wrote at the time, the album was “a masterwork filled with conversational and hypnotically mesmerizing song-poems layered with meaning that both reveal more every time they are heard and suggest new avenues of meaning and interpretation rendering them ever mysterious.”

When Leonard died less than three weeks after You Want It Darker was released, it was assumed that it was his final work. The album was produced by Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son, himself an accomplished singer-songwriter. As we now know, rough sketches for more songs – essentially Leonard reciting or gently singing his song-poems – were recorded during those sessions. Near the end of his life, Cohen the father tasked Cohen the son with completing the songs. The result is Thanks for the Dance, yet another Leonard Cohen masterwork of nine song-poems, seven of which have musical settings composed or co-composed by Adam.

The album opens with “Happens to the Heart,” a sometimes-oblique look back at love and relationships and searches through religion and philosophy. A key verse seems to be an ultimate rejection of the Zen master Leonard studied with and served for several years (and who was eventually revealed to be a sexual predator). Aside from Leonard’s deeply compelling voice – it is compelling throughout the album – the track is highlighted by the Spanish laud virtuosity of Javier Mas (Mas also plays guitar on several of the other songs on the album).

Then comes “Moving On,” a lovely Mediterranean-sounding reminiscence of Marianne Ihlen. Marianne – who inspired several of Leonard’s greatest early songs, including the anthemic “So Long, Marianne” – died just four months before Leonard. Later in the album, Leonard sings “It’s Torn,” which I suspect may also have been inspired by Marianne’s passing.

The Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca, was one of Leonard’s literary influences and I suspect that “The Night of Santiago,” was at least partially inspired by Lorca’s poem “Santiago,” which was inspired by James, the patron saint of Spain. Leonard’s song, with its gentle flamenco arrangement, is a detailed, dream-like evocation of a seduction of a seemingly forbidden woman.

“Thanks for the Dance,” the album’s title song is a re-imagined version of a song that originally appeared on Blue Alert, a 2006 album by Anjani Thomas, produced by Leonard. This version, perhaps a farewell to another lover, is set as a quiet waltz.

In “The Goal,” a very short poem-song at just over a minute in length, Leonard seems to be poignantly reflecting on his condition, knowing that death is near.

“Puppets,” a rumination on the Holocaust, war and political chaos is certainly one of the most powerful songs on the album. Its arrangement features profoundly performed vocals by two choirs: Cantus Domus, a choir of women from Berlin, and the Shaar Hashomayim Men’s Choir, from Leonard’s home synagogue in Montreal (the Shaar Choir’s vocals were also a highlight on two songs from You Want It Darker).

In “The Hills,” the penultimate song, Leonard again seems to be pondering the end of life. “The system is shot/I’m living on pills/For which I thank God,” he sings in the refrain.

Finally, in “Listen to the Hummingbird,” Leonard seems to be telling us what is ultimately important for us to pay attention to: “Listen to the hummingbird… Listen to the butterfly… Listen to the mind of God/Don’t Listen to Me.”

Like so much of Leonard’s other work, I suspect that more layers of meaning will be revealed each time I listen to Thanks for the Dance.

Find me on Twitter.

–Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Saturday Morning with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Saturday November 9, 2019

Saturday Morning is an eclectic roots-oriented program on CKCU in Ottawa heard live on Saturday mornings from 7 until 10 am (Eastern time) and then available for on-demand streaming. I am one of the four rotating hosts of Saturday Morning and base my programming on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches format I developed at CKUT in Montreal.

CKCU can be heard live at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

This episode of Saturday Morning can be streamed on-demand at …

This episode of Saturday Morning was during CKCU’s annual funding drive. Thanks to all the generous listeners who supported Saturday Morning and CKCU. It’s never too late to make a donation online at CKCU’s secure website.

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer- Ol ‘55
Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits (Dualtone)

Jesse Winchester- Snow
Jesse Winchester (Stony Plain)
Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash- Girl from the North Country
Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15, 1967-1969 (Columbia Legacy)

The Early Risers- Red Bird
Making Life Sweet (Itchy Sabot)
Rachel Harrington- Hush the Wild Horses
Hush the Wild Horses (Skinny Dennis)

Kim Wallach- Men in Felt Fedoras
Chatter of the Finches (Black Socks Press)
Debra Cowan- Bones and Feathers
Greening the Dark (Muzzy House Music)

Bob Dylan- All Along the Watchtower
Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15, 1967-1969 (Columbia Legacy)
Jerry Garcia & David Grisman- The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
Been All Around This World (Acoustic Disc)

Ian & Sylvia- When First Unto This Country
The Lost Tapes (Stony Plain)
Si Kahn- Here is My Home
Best of the Rest (Strictly Country)

Corin Raymond- There will Always be a Small Time
Josh White, Jr.- It’s Chilly Out Tonight
Live at the Raven Gallery (Silverwolf)

Barbara Dane & The Chambers Brothers- This Little Light of Mine
Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways)
Reggie Harris- Ready to Go
Ready to Go (Reggie Harris Music)

Archie Fisher & Garnet Rogers- Make and Break Harbour
The Best Times After All: Live (Snow Goose Songs)
Archie Fisher & Garnet Rogers- Final Trawl
The Best Times After All: Live (Snow Goose Songs)

Sneezy Waters- Brother, Can You Spare a Dime
Sneezy Waters (Sneezy Waters)
Geoff Muldaurs Futuristic Ensemble featuring Martha Wainwright- Singin’ the Blues
Private Astronomy: A Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke (Edge Music)

Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer- Triskaidekaphobia
Wahoo! (Community Music)
Jackie Washington- Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go?
Midnight Choo Choo (Borealis)

Kerri Ough- How is This Going to End
One Day Soon (Kerri Ough)
Sussex- Drive
The Ocean Wide (Lucky Bear)

Gathering Sparks- Nothing but a Broken Heart
All That’s Real (Borealis)
Shelley Posen- All Right
Ontario Moon (Well Done Music)

Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash- I Still Miss Someone
Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 15, 1967-1969 (Columbia Legacy)
Tom Russell- Wreck of the Old 97

Susan Werner- Talk Me into Anything
NOLA: Susan Werner Goes to New Orleans (Sleeve Dog)
Durham County Poets- St. James Infirmary
Hand Me Down Blues (Durham County Poets)

Pierce Pettis- Don’t Know Where I Am
Father’s Son (Compass)
Dirty Dishes- Get On the Run
In Sink (Dirty Dishes)

Grant Dermody- Great Change
My Dony (Grant Dermody)
Bett Padgett- In My Life
If I Catch My Dream: songs of hope for a better world (Ceildhe’s Music)

Shari Ulrich- The Sweater
Back to Shore (Borealis)

Stephen Neale will be subbing for me on December 7 so I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning next on January 4, 2020.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif