Thursday, May 21, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LEONARD COHEN - CAN'T FORGET: A SOUVENIR OF THE GRAND TOUR
That's because he keeps coming up with new things to send our way. He has the vast catalogue of course, but he's been so prolific in his later years, he keeps adding brand-new songs that may or may not end up on studio albums. There are two of them here, as well as interesting covers and reworked older material. And remarkably, of the ten songs, only one has been on any of the other recent live releases, and in a radically different way. Here, the well-known Tower of Song is renamed Stages, because it's mostly a humorous stage introduction to the song about aging and attractiveness, and then a couple of verses of the song done in a completely different arrangement and tempo.
How Cohen manages this is by giving us a ticket to the secret show, before the main one. Half of the cuts were recorded at soundcheck, a time for the band to work out new material that may or may not make it into the main set. That's where we hear the great Joan of Arc, one of the few classics missing from the recent shows until he worked up this version with his current backing singers featured prominently. Cohen returns to his first love, country music, covering a song that won George Jones a Grammy from 1999, Choices. He only played it in concert a couple of times, and here we hear him working up the tribute cut, with Jones obviously a hero of his.
The two new cuts being worked on are equally left-field additions. Never Gave Nobody Trouble is a full-on blues song, Cohen reveling in the classic form of the lyrics, admitting he "don't wanna break no windows, don't wanna burn no car." It's actually a clever attack on the rich and greedy tycoons, who don't see what's coming when they piss off the proletariat. Got A Little Secret is another from his recent favourite topic, advanced age and diminishing expectations and returns.
Of the concert tracks, it's especially fine to hear I Can't Forget make the set list, from the I'm Your Man album. It's also wonderful to hear his tribute to his Francophone audience, a cover of the 1966 hit La Manic, by the poet, novelist and singer Georges Dor. This was performed for audiences familiar with the song, in Quebec and New Brunswick. As with all his recent live albums, Cohen's exceptional and subtle backing group is perfect, and perfectly understated, providing an exceptional recording, each instrument and voice at a gentle and beautiful level. This is so much more than just a tour album, it's a real present to the faithful.