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Music Review: Leonard Cohen – Live In London

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I had sort of lost track of Leonard Cohen over the years and that has been my loss. He is a true musical poet and his songs have been recorded by hundreds and probably thousands of artists.

Cohen first achieved public attention with a series of critically acclaimed album releases 1967-1974. Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room, Songs Of Love and Hate, and New Skin For The Old Ceremony established him as a songwriter of note and would begin to form the body of work that would lead to his induction into The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008.

He has always moved at his own pace. Cohen has released only five studio albums in the last quarter century and had not toured in fifteen years. He caused a great deal of excitement among his fan base when it was announced he would play a number of live dates. Live In London was recorded July 17th, 2008.

Leonard Cohen is now in his mid-seventies and while his voice may be a tad deeper than in his prime, he is still able to present his music effectively and emotionally. The 26 tracks that comprise this two disc set are career spanning and include most of his best known material plus a few surprises along the way. Ever the creative artist, a number of the songs are lengthened and changed as new lyrics and melodies appear.

Columbia has done a good job with this release. The sound is clear and the concert has a complete feel to it. A nice booklet is included which has some informative liner notes and pictures of the concert. When you combine the package with the music, it all adds up to one of the better live albums in recent memory.  

The music speaks for itself. His songs of love, loss, religion, depression, and joy are like individual poetic works. “Dance Me To The End Of Love” is passionate and dark. “Suzanne,” which has been recorded almost 200 times by other artists, is bittersweet as it is returned to its original form. “Democracy” is a social commentary about sacrifice. “Hallelujah,” which recently became a number one hit for Jeff Buckley, clocks in at over seven minutes and contains some new lyrics. It is another of his songs that has been extensively covered by others but here he reclaims it as his own. The concert meanders from one delight to the next as “First We Take Manhattan,” “Bird On A Wire,” “The Gypsy’s Wife,” “Closing Time,” and “I Tried To Leave” all shine as they take center stage.

Live In London is a triumphant return for Leonard Cohen. It shows him to be not only a master of his craft but affirms just how joyful and affecting music can be when performed by the right person.

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About David Bowling

  • I’m His Fan

    Great review, David. The quality of the recording is incredible, and the musicianship everything you’d expect out of a band hired by the notoriously perfectionist Cohen.

    [Edited]