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Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road(2008)
Following the celebration of his 40th year as a Columbia artist in 2007 and coinciding with his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2008, Cohen thrilled his fans by announcing his first tour dates in 15 years. He s gone on to play the most prestigious and beautiful venues in virtually every corner of the globe, mesmerizing and charming audiences with performances that were hailed as some of the best of his career. When legend Cohen takes to the stage, raved Ireland s The Independent (June 2008), it s no less than a cultural event of Biblical dimensions.
One dozen of Leonard Cohen s most famous songs from those recent world tour performances at auditorium halls, festivals, arenas, and stadiums from Tel Aviv to London, from across Europe to the California desert and his native Canada are now collected on SONGS FROM THE ROAD. The 12-song program filmed in high definition and recorded in 5.1 surround sound will be issued in three separate packages: CD+DVD in a beautiful softpak with a 12-page book, Blu-ray, and 2-LP 180-gram audiophile vinyl in a gatefold jacket.
For more about Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road and the Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray release, see Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 22, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Edward Sanders
Starring: Leonard Cohen
» See full cast & crew
Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 22, 2010
Bob Dylan. Superstar, countless hit records, quite possibly a billionaire. Leonard Cohen. Cult figure, a few scattered hit singles (by other artists covering his songs), probably "only" made it to multimillionaire. It's odd, isn't it, especially when one compares both Dylan and Cohen's literary ambitions within the ostensible confines of the folk rock idiom. If Cohen has never really risen to the pop consciousness levels that Dylan has enjoyed for going on 50 years, he doesn't seem to be particularly upset about it, and in fact probably prefers his relative anonymity. Cohen is a famously reclusive character, one who disappeared for several years into a Zen retreat center. But even his artistic persona seems cloaked in enigmas. His lyrics are typically poetically opaque and even discursive, hinting at great truths without ever coming right out and stating them. As with Dylan's songs, a surface simplicity hides an amazing profundity, one which defies easy categorization, and may have contributed as much as anything to keeping Cohen himself off of the Top 10 charts. While several of his songs have become pop music icons, notably "Suzanne" and "Hallelujah," Cohen himself has remained a mystery, a shadowy figure who just happens to write one amazing song after another. And so it's both bracing and a little frightening to see Cohen himself front and center, friendly, relaxed, even (amazingly enough) joking with the audience, albeit in his ever quiet and understated way, throughout this wonderful compendium of 12 Songs from the Road, culled from Cohen's 2008-2009 world tour.
Some idea of the esteem in which Cohen is held in certain literary circles are the absolutely eloquent liner notes in the insert booklet of this new Blu-ray, written by The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier. Wieseltier waxes poetic, and really quite profoundly, about our transient society, and how the road is seen as a bridging element between a departure and a destination, rather than a place of its own. "We have forgotten how to be travelers and we are tourists instead, sitting still before the window and watching the world speed past, when in fact we are the ones who are speeding and it s the world that is still, for those who possess the capacity for stillness." Wow. Wieseltier posits Cohen as a mystic traveler, an itinerant shaman who delivered some semblance of the Divine as he played 195 shows between May 2008 and November 2009.
Cohen has always been an artist who plays it, both figuratively and literally, close to the vest, and there is still a somewhat guarded aspect to his persona, even in this up close and personal journey through nearly a year and a half of touring. Though Cohen is perhaps unfairly thought of as a cult figure, the mammoth crowds that greet him in places as far flung as Tel Aviv and Glasgow prove that he has an ardent fan base that is willing to turn out by the thousands to see their musical hero in person. What is truly celebratory about these concerts is not just the fact that Cohen is still spry enough to do them (he's 76), but that he seems to have come to a place of joy himself. Long regarded as either a recluse or a depressive, Cohen may not exactly be tripping the light fantastic in any of these venues, but he's obviously touched and, in his own introspective way, cheerful throughout these twelve disparate performances. In fact, Cohen is blissful, in the most effulgent meaning of that word.
With his voice significantly deepened and burnished by the increasing years, Cohen is more of a declaimer than he is actually a singer. But that wealth of soul informs his brilliant lyric writing as perhaps a "prettier" voice could never do. Backed by an ace band, including music director/bassist Roscoe Beck and keyboardist Neil Larsen (of the late lamented Feiten-Larsen Band), Cohen calmly moves through twelve of his songs, some classic, some less known. Through it all, Cohen is quietly commanding on stage, communicating the essence of his spirituality, one wise with age but not bowed to cynicism. There's a nice variety to the arrangements here, with several of the band members taking extended solos, and Leonard himself contributing a gypsy guitar lick or two. As might be expected of an artist this enamored of the ballad, there aren't a wealth of up tempo blockbusters here; rather, this is an elegant set of stories set to more contemplative rhythm arrangements.
Leonard's set list is:
Lover, Lover, Lover—Tel Aviv, Israel
Bird on the Wire—Glasgow, Scotland
Chelsea Hotel—London, England
Heart With No Companion—Oberhausen, Germany
That Don't Make It Junk—London, England
Waiting for the Miracle—San Jose, California
The Partisan—Helsinki, Finland
Famous Blue Raincoat—London, England
Closing Time—London, Ontario
Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray, Video Quality
The good news is most fans will probably flock to this release for its audio rather than its video. The bad news is the video is pretty soft looking, with some attendant blooming, perhaps due to over aggressive stage lighting, which makes the background curtains flare in a variety of colors throughout Cohen's worldwide trek. The Blu-ray is presented with an AVC encode, in 1080i and 1.78:1, and while close-ups deliver some nice fine detail and decent contrast, mid-range and far-range shots are really a muddle, with faces turning to amorphous goo and detail all but disappearing. The film segues in and out of black and white sequences, and those sport good contrast and excellent black levels, and indeed the black levels in the color sequences are also excellent. But more often than not the bright orange, blue and other lit colored curtains flare into blooming, almost threatening to take over the musicians standing in front of them.
Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Luckily, Songs from the Road is presented with a sterling Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (96kHz, 24-bit) mix which offers Cohen's magnetic performances in beautiful and heartfelt fidelity. Cohen deep voice comes through loudly and clearly, despite the fact that Cohen is really not much of a singer, and the band is presented with excellent separation and with great surround utilization. Cohen's guitar and harmonica sound fantastic, and the backing band and three backup singers are offered with brilliant, distortion free fidelity and excellent dynamic range, at least insofar as this kind of mellow-skewed set of tunes allows. These are some very eloquent performances, and the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix presents them with crystal clarity. There is also an LPCM 2.0 lossless stereo fold down available.
Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
On the Blu-ray itself, we get a really interesting Backstage Sketches (HD; 21:26) featurette, which offers interviews with a lot of Cohen's backing band. In the keepcase is one of the oddest extras ever: a little plastic pouch containing a "Fortune Telling Fish," a little piece of vinyl you leave on your hand which supposedly tells your fortune by how it curls.
Leonard Cohen: Songs from the Road Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Songs from the Road offers the chance to see one of the most enigmatic and lyrically brilliant artists working in the realm of popular music. Cohen has been such a reclusive figure for so long it's a bit bracing to see him, warts and all, in this amazing amalgamation of performances from venues near and far. Though the image quality here isn't great, the audio quality more than makes up for it, and this Blu-ray is highly recommended.
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