The Best of the Best of(s) Series: Leonard Cohen (1975 and 2002)

I don’t think this will happen often : posting about two “best of” compilations at the same time… But Leonard Cohen isn’t your usual singer/songwriter/musician. With this many great songs, it’s no surprise that at least two compilations made the list.

Let’s start with the first one: the 1975 release “Leonard Cohen, the Best of”. While I was enjoying “The Future” album from 1992, a friend of mine told me that I absolutely had to listen to Cohen’s 60’s and 70’s stuff before I could even start saying that I knew about and enjoyed Leonard Cohen. So I borrowed this compilation from another friend, and indeed, only then did I start to understand the kind of unbelievable wonders that this Montréal-born artist could create. This “Best of” compilation comprises some of his greatest older tunes, classics like “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Chelsea Hotel”, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”, …  Simply put, there just isn’t one bad song on this album. BTW, in addition to the links below, you can also find many of these songs on these previous posts: ;

In 2002, a 2-disc compilation intitled “The Essentials” was released. Practically all of the songs on the 1975 best of compilation are included on this one as well. But a few cool ones were added, like “The Stranger Song”, an all time favorite of mine. And then, there’s a few great classics from the 80’s: “Everybody Knows”, “I’m Your Man”, “Tower of Song”, “First, We Take Manhattan”, “Dance Me to the End of Love”, and of course “Hallelujah”, a wonderful song that was covered by just about everyone (Willie Nelson, Elton John, Bono, Rufus Wainwright, John Cale, K.D. Lang, Jeff Buckley, …). “The Essentials” compilation continues with some nice hits from the 90’s: “The Future”, “Waiting For a Miracle”, and also “Anthem” which brought us the wonderful phrase “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. The album finally ends with four songs from the 2001 CD “Ten New Songs”, which he made with Sharon Robinson (a frequent collaborator of his).

Two heartbreaking omissions on “The Essentials” compilation: “Teachers” and “Master Song”. How could those two masterpieces from his first album not be considered essentials?!! But it’s OK, I forgive you, Leonard Cohen. In a world dominated by insipid sorta-dance music about cheap booty-calls, this timeless music fills the heart and mind. Leonard is an artist who can accompany you your whole life. His genius, poetic and touching lyrics about human desires, his beautiful melodies, and his distinctive hypnotic voice, constitute quite the musical work of art. While I think that his first albums are unforgettable and comprise some of the greatest lyrics I have ever heard in my life, I do agree that all of his albums are worth listening to.



Tracy Chapman: Simple, Honest and Moving Songs

When her first eponymous CD was released, folk-rock singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman proved to be a refreshing new act in a period dominated by 80’s style glam and glitter. She is known for the simplicity and originality of her style, her warm voice, and her socially-aware and introspective lyrics (people who sing about compassion and human struggles in such a way are too few). The music is finely-crafted and executed. The emotion in her voice and the content of the lyrics make her performances truly moving. She’s definitely an artist you need to hear.

Tracy Chapman started playing guitar and writing songs early on in her life, and was singing in local coffeehouses during college (she studied in anthropology I believe) before she was signed by Elektra. She’s made numerous albums, and plenty of great songs. It was hard to decide which ones to put links to, so I’ll go with a few personal favorites, which include a well-known classic.






Thank you, Georges Brassens!

I’ve really been slacking off lately when it comes to posting about francophone artists. So I thought I’d get back on track with one of my favorite French artists.

Singer-songwriter and musician Georges Brassens is one of the most beloved figures of France’s cultural and musical history. His distinctive style features a warm voice, unique rythms on the guitar, and beautifully-written, witty and original songs. Not to mention his awesome wooden pipe, which is almost as famous as he is. Georges Brassens sang about freedom, love, and the kindness of simple people, but also about social oppression and human stupidity. He wrote hundreds of songs and I can’t recall a single really bad one (no kidding). His timeless music is loved by people of all ages.

If I had to compare him to an anglophone music figure, perhaps it’d be Johnny Cash, because of his independant thought, first and foremost. Georges Brassens is not afraid to laugh at the clergy, or politicians who send others to war, with a lot of humour and intelligence. While he becomes a thorn in some’s sides, overall, the public loves him. Aside from being a free thinker, he’s also a storyteller, and a poet. In 1967, he receives the Grand Prize for Poetry from the Académie française.

In Québec at least, if you sat around a camp fire and someone pulled out a guitar, there was a good chance of eventually hearing a Georges Brassens song. For the people of my generation, he is one of our all time favorite singers from France (even if he himself was born in the 1920’s). His songs have been translated in many languages and there’s been tons of tributes over the years, as France’s and Québec’s artists recognize his incredible contribution to music.

Thank you Georges Brassens for all those great songs that have accompanied me through happy and painful periods in my life. Let me, too, share them with the world (I’m getting overly excited now)!

Treat Yourself to David Gray’s “White Ladder”

I realized over the years that the albums I listen to most often are those smooth rainy day albums that can be enjoyed while curled up in a comfy chair with a latte or a glass of wine (and now that the kids are getting a little older, I appreciate these moments of peace all the more!). Usually, these albums feature smooth melodies, with vocals and acoustic guitar/piano upfront. David Gray’s “White Ladder” is that kind of album, and it remains a sure bet for a nice little afternoon/evening at home.

“White Ladder” was British singer songwriter David Gray’s fourth record. It was self-financed and recorded in a London appartment… and it became a huge success. How can one explain this success? Sure, the songs are good, but there’s more. As is often the case with successful albums, people felt a special connection to this record. Let’s remember when this album was released : in 1998. Right after the grunge period, just before the turn of the century, when, as it appears, society went nuts and got into the terrible phase of boy band/girl band/lolita/gangsta rapper type artists backed (or made) by an insatiable and insipid music industry. In such times, you could find solace in such an album.

All in all, David Gray looks like quite the nice guy!

Bob Dylan: I’m at a loss for words

This was unexpected, but I’m really having a hard time writing this post about american singer-songwriter and musician Bob Dylan, even if I’ve been listening to his music for a long long time (his 1960’s albums at least). As the 2007 movie “I’m not there” implied, this artist is really elusive. Perhaps I’m also suffering from the Wayne’s World I’m not worthy complex (this might happen again when I speak of Leonard Cohen or other poets who’ve given us such beautifully accurate lyrics about human soul, relationships, or social conflicts).

I think we could say that Bob Dylan is one of the 20th century’s most influential figures, when it comes to both music and culture.

So… I thought, hey, why not let the music speak for itself? I found a couple of cool things on youtube. The classic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” video, a live 1960’s performance of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and of a personal favorite, “Don’t think twice, it’s alright”.

The enigmatic Amy Winehouse

When I first heard the song “Rehab”, I was blown away. Then I saw the video, and I was blown away even more. Then I bought the CD. It had been such a long time since I listened to a song on repeat by a new artist (although it was her second album – “back to black” is indeed the one that blew the doors right open).

Then I heard “You know I’m no good” and “Back to black”… And I thought, in addition to having a great soulfull voice, this woman is a very talented songwriter, again, at such a young age. Her personal relationships seemed to have been awefully painfull though, because those songs are heartbreaking.

Her live acoustic performances say it all. She was a true artist, gone too fast.

Below are the “You know I’m no good” and “Back to black” videos, plus a few  acoustic live performances of “Back to black”, “Love is a losing game”, “You know I’m no good”, and “Rehab”.

Another wonderful find: Patrick Watson performing outside

Montrealer Patrick Watson was originally trained as a classical pianist. I hear that at the age of 7, he sang in local choirs. Later, he played the keyboard with ska-jazz band “Gangster Politics”. However, he is best known for his recent work with his band (called “Patrick Watson”, as it seems they couldn’t agree on any other name), which won critical acclaim. Personnally, I bought the CDs “Close to Paradise” and “Adventures in your own backyard”, and they’re both great. Smooth and easy listening, especially in the fall or winter seasons.

If you’ve never heard of him/them, I invite you to click on the links below. Youtubers can post such great stuff!

1- The first video is a live performance of “Into Giants”, in some backyard on a sunny day (as a reminder of the album’s title). Great, now I want to have an afternoon drink with friends in my or their backyard. Better get a sweater though this time of year. Jeez… fine, I’ll have some herbal tea instead and put on wollen socks, but somehow it doesn’t sounds as cool or as tempting now.

2- The second video is a live performance of “Man under the sea” in a dark alley in Paris. It sounds creepy but it’s not, it’s a classy dark alley. 😉