"In Anjani Thomas, Leonard Cohen Finds a New Voice"by Alan Light
New York Times
May 21, 2006
LEONARD COHEN is not known for being prolific. In a recording career approaching its 40th year, this master of romantic despair has released a mere 11 studio albums. So his fans might be surprised that less than two years after his last album, Dear Heather, a new set of Cohen songs is seeing the light.
The new album is Blue Alert by Anjani Thomas (Columbia), featuring 10 songs co-written and produced by Mr. Cohen, the 71-year-old Montreal-born bard; Ms. Thomas, billed on the album simply as Anjani, is his longtime backup singer and current girlfriend.
The project began when Ms. Thomas, 46, who first worked with Mr. Cohen on his Various Positions in 1984, took the lead vocal on the Dear Heather track "Undertow." Soon after, she spied a set of lyrics on his desk and asked if she could record them, possibly as a demo for his next album. Pleased with the results, she began poring through Mr. Cohen's notebooks and files.
"If there was a line or a verse I liked," she said in a telephone interview from the couple's home in Los Angeles, "we put that aside." And together they worked on turning the scraps into completed songs.
Though Mr. Cohen's songs have been covered by artists from Harry Belafonte to Jeff Buckley, he has never written for another voice. But he says he found the prospect refreshing. "Being what you are is always tricky, but being what you're not is really liberating," he said.
In addition, he said, he was delighted to find an outlet for lyrics he had consigned to the archives.
"It always surprises me when something can be used," Mr. Cohen said. "There's this gnawing feeling that what you're doing is useless."
Blue Alert is a series of what Ms. Thomas called "bittersweet love songs," characteristically melancholy meditations on longing and loss, given a jazzier feel by her vocal range, which is considerably broader than Mr. Cohen's signature gravelly near-monotone.
There was another motivation for this project. Last year Mr. Cohen filed a lawsuit alleging that his former manager Kelley Lynch, had defrauded him of millions of dollars he had set aside for his retirement. The singer, who spends much of his time at a Zen monastery outside Los Angeles, realized that he needed to accelerate his work schedule. (In February Mr. Cohen won a $9.5 million court judgment against Ms. Lynch, though it's unclear when or if he will actually see any of this money.)
"Finances were a huge factor," Ms. Thomas said. "It was like, we've got to make a record, make some money. It was a terribly pressurized situation, full of shock and awe and disbelief — so in the midst of that, running to the studio and banging on a piano was the fun part."
By design and by luck, there is currently a flurry of Cohen-related activity. In addition to Blue Alert there is Book of Longing, a collection of new poems and drawings recently published by HarperCollins. And the documentary I'm Your Man, featuring artists like Rufus Wainwright and Nick Cave performing Cohen compositions (and U2 backing up the songwriting legend on one song), opens next month at Film Forum in New York. Mr. Cohen added that he was "deep into" his own next album.
"I'm happy that all these events came to completion around the same time," he said. "Since I'm not in the marketplace that often, it creates a certain possible invitation to listen."