Monday, March 10, 2008

Hallelujah Leonard Cohen

With his induction tonight into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it seems a fitting time to rise from Winter hibernation and say thanks to Leonard Cohen for his songs.

Working with Allison Crowe, I've come, particularly, to witness the power of "Hallelujah". It's not the most covered of Cohen's songs - that would be "Suzanne" or "Marianne" - though, it's certainly the most potent in today's cultural context.

Two versions have been released on disc by the writer himself, a shorter lyric on 1984's "Various Positions", and a longer version recorded in 1988 and released in 1994 on his "Cohen Live" album. It's generally acknowledged that John Cale, with his version (of the shorter lyrics "Hallelujah"), on the 1991 I'm Your Fan Cohen tribute album, established the form that most performers have since followed in their interpretations.

For the 1994 release of Jeff Buckley's album "Grace", famed mixer Andy Wallace (Run DMC, Aerosmith, Nirvana +), in the role of producer, reportedly took three of the 21 or so takes recorded by Buckley, and blended them together into a seamless whole that, for the next decade, served as the song's most public representation.

In 2002, the Hollywood movie Shrek was released, and its huge popularity brought "Hallelujah" to a much broader audience, including children. In the movie itself, one hears John Cale's rendition of the song. The movie's soundtrack CD contains a version recorded by Rufus Wainwright.

The next year, Allison Crowe first recorded the song - for a six songs, EP, version of her "Tidings" song collection. This "Hallelujah" was recorded live, in a single, first, take. Allison was recovering from ill health, and, in a darkened studio, would perform a song, then, sip warm water or tea, and record the next. It happens that the recording of the two videos online of her performing "Hallelujah" also took place in real time. The "Tidings" Fan Club video is posted earlier in this blog, so, here, now, is the live recording of "Hallelujah" made Inside Pandora's Box - a CHUM television studio in Victoria, B.C., Canada. This performance forms part of the tv special that's aired each year since 2003 across Canada during the Christmas holiday season.

"I love singing Hallelujah. It's such an awesome song. I just feel humbled, " says Allison.

I imagine that's how most feel about this glorious song. It's a gift from Leonard Cohen to artists and audience alike.

With the internet revolution, forums such as YouTube are becoming a conduit for music in the folk tradition. Lyrics and chords can now be shared and learned by people all over the globe - with immediacy. It's akin to a global campfire singalong.

Since the slow-burning, cult-status, days of "Hallelujah", the embrace of the song has been ignited, and, accelerated via mp3 blogs, podcasts, home videos and more online. Added to more recordings by mainstream, label, acts - including kd lang, Brandi Carlile, and Bon Jovi - this Leonard Cohen song, once a cabaret standard, is now a popular standard. (It's even a staple of the "Idol" pop franchise, perhaps facilitated by licensing associations - it's been performed on Australian Idol, Swedish Idol, Canadian Idol, and, just last week, by American Idol contestant Jason Castro.)

I've noticed, too, that there appears to be at least half-a-dozen performers who claim this as their "signature" song. The fans of some acts are extremely partisan and protective of their own chosen idols. Taking the big view, however, it's the song that ennobles the singer, and not the other way 'round.

Hallelujah Leonard Cohen.

(BTW, Allison includes a couple of other Cohen-penned songs in her repertoire: "Joan of Arc", and "Tonight Will Be Fine". Of the pair, so far, she's recorded only "Joan of Arc" - for her Secrets album.)

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Blogger musicobsessive said...

As you know, 'Hallelujah' was my route to discovering Allison and what a good find it was.
There are always times in your life when you feel you will never be excited by any new artist, but this just goes to show that there is always something around the corner.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Never fear. You're not fated to only repeats of the Baker Street sax...

( :

Indeed, there is much creativity of the human/artistic spirit to be heard. And, with today's technology making it possible for artists to grow outside the mold (mould, too hehe) of the record industry, magic is once again afoot in popular music.

Happy St. Patrick's Day weekend!

3:07 PM  

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