Leonard Cohen's oeuvre is rich and deep, betokening a talent reaching beyond chart-toppers, as most anyone familiar with his music can attest. The songwriting, the gentle melodies and the overall sense of good music emanating from his songs makes one feel, well, good.
His most recent album, "Dear Heather", is no exception. It is rich, treacly and sublime, yet breath-takingly sensual and direct. The selection of poems set to music range from his own compositions such as "Undertow" and "Because Of" to Byron's "Go No More A-Roving", perhaps an old age lament. The album itself feels like a memory-book to friends loved and lost - the liner notes reference departed friends, colleagues and poets from Montreal.
1. "Go No More A-Roving": The Byron lyric is dedicated to Irving Layton, Nobel Literature Prize nominee and poet. Backing vocals are by Sharon Robinson, with an occasional saxophone melody. The song is light, gentle, and "made for loving." Irving Layton's poems were matter-of-fact, direct, and spoke to the heart, much like this song. One of his poems, "The Tamed Puma" goes,
"Women and poems are my sole chance here
to give expelled breath shape and contour
and fable it with meaning.
I place on the brow of every woman I love
a crown made from the choicest words;
I dress her like a woodland queen
in trope and metaphor."
2. "Because Of": A Cohen original, this song references his appreciation of women, topic of many of his songs.
"Because of a few songs
Wherein I spoke of their mystery,
Women have been
to my old age."
This song features Anjani Thomas, who appears on many pieces in this album. She is no stranger to Leonard's music and life - being a close friend since the 1980s, having appeared on many of his albums, besides being an accomplished musician in her own right.
3. "The Letters": Sharon Robinson, another old friend, appears with Leonard in this love song of letters sent, meant, and lost. Sharon responds to his appeal with her own perspective on letters received, read, treasured and love spent. The song tapers off into a low, low tone with Leonard whispering his words of music and love.
"You never liked to get
The letters that I sent
But now you've got the gist
Of what my letters meant.
You're reading them again,
The ones you didn't burn.
You press them to your lips
My pages of concern."
4. "Undertow": The song begins with an extended, smouldering musical riff on the sax, then Anjani Thomas takes up this abstract piece about the ability of the heart to be carried away by forces greater than the self, turning the 'heart the shape of a begging bowl'.
"I set out one night
When the tide was low
There were signs in the sky
But I did not know
I'd be caught in the grip of the undertow."
5. "Morning Glory": A poem capturing the zeitgeist of censorship, the portents of a new age and a transcendental moment leading to the garden, the backyard, the driveway and morning glory.