Beautiful and distinctly unsettling
This is a marvellously seductive album, which doesn’t immediately grab the listener (well this listener) by the throat, but silkily slides into the mind, nagging and teasing, until it itches at the ears and heart, insistently, to be played again. Of course, this album may indeed have contained Recent Songs on its release in 1979, now, they must almost be ready for retitling as Songs From Long Ago!
The track which grabbed me most immediately was the plangent The Window, redolent with references to the mystical heart, and the mysteriousness of love, fleshly and divine – Rumi a strong influence. The combination of much Christian reference ‘The Host’, ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ and rose references within that context, plus the strange haunting violin of Raffi Hakopian, hinting at another tradition from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, provides a deep texture, the music and the lyrics setting against each other, almost like counterpoint.
This is a subtle and rewarding album, musically and lyrically. Cohen employs a mariachi band on one long track, The Ballad of The Absent Mare. On other tracks there’s use of Oud, Accordion, Sax, Cello and Horns as well as keyboards and Cohen’s guitar. I’ve described it as `unsettling’ because, particularly on the tracks which explore the connections and the disconnections between fleshly love and divine love the pulls of heaven and earth are mirrored by music which sets up a sense of yearning for something out of reach – that perfection of union and merging with the beloved, however the beloved is perceived. Hakopian’s heartful, soulful, longing for home violin is particularly well in evidence on these tracks – The Guests, The Window, The Traitor, The Gypsy’s Wife.
Cohen uses his voice very lyrically, colouring the songs – again, often to unsettling results. His voice is most tender, most lyrical and sweet on The Traitor, hinting at the English Folk Music tradition by way of a nod at Tennyson’s Lady of Shallot, but the lyrics are darkly on the edge of humour, very dark indeed `
keep my body here to lie upon, you can move it up and down and when I’m sleeping run some wire through that Rose and wind the Swan.
A wonderful album bringing together darkness and light. Full of dynamic oppositions.