Leonard Cohen “Songs from a Room”

Columbia Records, 1969

I should make this clear right from the start–I am not a Leonard Cohen freak. It seems that the majority of his fans revere him as one of the greatest artists of all time. I am not quite there yet. In this regard, I thought having me write a review of a Leonard Cohen record would be an interesting perspective, since I am not biased to his obvious talents but am just now diving in to his enormous collection of work.

“Songs from a Room” is Cohen’s second album, and representative of his early folk-influenced material. It is far removed from the club rock of his 80’s hit “Everybody Knows”, and probably most of his other work, for that matter. Also, Cohen’s vocals on this album, for the most part, are sung in a much higher register than the extremely low baritone for which he is now known. In short, this album may not be the best place to start for someone who is just starting to listen to Leonard Cohen’s music.

With that said, it’s a fine record that boasts a few bona-fide classics. The oft-covered “Bird on the Wire” is one of Cohen’s most well-known and iconic tunes. It’s a lament on the futile aspects of freedom, one that Cohen wrote at the tail end of a depression. If I ever wrote a song like this, it would surely make me feel better.

However, with so many versions of “Bird” out there, it makes me wonder if Cohen’s is really the best one (more research pending). Bob Johnston’s production of the album isn’t necessarily bad, but some of the choices he made are at least questionable. Most distracting is the inclusion of a tongue harp on almost every song, probably added to accentuate the overall folk element. I can understand that, I guess–at the time of this recording, it probably made a lot of sense. Now, it just sounds dated and unnecessary. It’s kind of like that first Thirteenth Floor Elevators record, which has a jug player on every song–it just gets old after awhile.

My favorite song on the record is “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes”. It’s a snapshot of this group of people that have huge dreams and expectations of greatness, and in waiting for this greatness to come, they just end up lonely has-beens and never-wases. Now, THERE is a timeless premise. It’s the closest thing to a rock song on the whole album, with it’s huge lead guitar lines in the chorus and full-band setup. This may have had something to do with why I liked it the best–I am a sucker for that stuff, after all–but I mostly remembered it for the lyrics and how poignant I thought they were.

Hmmm… Maybe I am starting to like Leonard Cohen a little more, then. I’ll have to check out his later, sans-tongue-harp work.

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One Response to “Leonard Cohen “Songs from a Room””

  1. Bewlay Says:

    Try “I’m Your Man” or “The Future” though his voice sounds like Dracula with about a 2 note range.

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