An Album of Cover Songs Honors the Legacy of Leonard Cohen
Though nearly six years have gone by since Leonard Cohen’s passing, the long shadow cast by his legacy as one of the 20th century’s most esteemed and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters shows no signs of lifting from the public’s imagination anytime soon. From the enveloping warmth of “Suzanne,” to the high drama of “Hallelujah,” to the chilling minimalist and gospel juxtaposition of his swansong “You Want it Darker,” Cohen managed to constantly reinvent himself, leaving behind the rare achievement of a musical body of work whose most impressive moments exist across eras.
On October 14, to celebrate this distinguished legacy, Blue Note Records will release Here It Is: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen, a collection of 12 Cohen songs covered by an ensemble of A-list talents, including many of his contemporaries, friends, and admirers.
The idea for the album came from producer Larry Klein, who says, “Leonard Cohen had been a friend since 1982 or so … After he passed away, I found myself frequently covering his songs with other artists that I was working with. One reason, of course, is that the songs are so good—in a certain way, Leonard is the best pop songwriter ever—but the other reason was that it helped keep him in the air around me.”
The group Klein put together includes the likes of Norah Jones, Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, and Mavis Staples, among others. The songs selected for the album cut across Cohen’s deep repertoire and include a mix of classics like “Hallelujah” alongside less familiar favorites like the album’s namesake, “Here It Is.” Interestingly enough, the inspiration for Klein’s structuring of the album ties back to his one professional encounter with Cohen, when he produced Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a tribute album in its own right, featuring Leonard Cohen along with other guest singers, for Klein’s ex-wife, Joni Mitchell (who, to make matters more convoluted, had a brief relationship with Cohen as well).
Two singles have so far been released from the album. James Taylor performs the first, a cover of “Coming Back to You” from Cohen’s 1984 album, Various Positions. The heartsick ballad receives a faithful treatment, with a smoother edge coming from the core jazz quintet Klein put together for the album, coupled with Taylor’s comfortable delivery. The second single, a rendition by Nathaniel Rateliff of Cohen’s eerie, atmospheric “Famous Blue Raincoat” from Songs of Love and Hate (1971), drifts a bit further from the source material, leaning into the song’s inherent drama with all the theatricality saxophone interludes afford.
While these two artists tie back to Cohen from vastly different contexts—Taylor’s solo debut coming a year after Cohen’s and Rateliff’s coming three years before Cohen’s death—both speak of him in a similar, devotional language as a cherished favorite and a longtime artistic inspiration. The rest of the album is yet to come, but it seems safe to assume that the other contributors will recontextualize Cohen’s work with the same love and care his songs have inspired in them and so many others.