conducted especially for this site
And read the follow up interview on Anjani's site

conducted especially for this site


October 29, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Yotam Barkai - Yale Daily News Review

January 7, 2005 - Review of Dear Heather by Jeff Miers - The Buffalo News

December 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Kevin McGowin - Eclectica

December 26, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather - Boston Herald

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Eric Greenwood - Free Times

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Jeffrey Morgan - Creem Magazine

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Connell Burton McDaniel - Synthesis

November 21, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Steve Stockman -
The Phantom Tollbooth

November 6, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Christopher Rees - icWales

November 5, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by David Styburski - Western Courier (Western Illinois University)

LISTEN -- November 2, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather on Day to Day
by Christian Bordal - NPR

November 23, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Elly Roberts - All

October 2004 - Canadian Maestro Is One of the Few Rock Writers Who Can Genuinely
Claim to Be a "Poet" by James Hunter - Blender

October 18, 2004 - New Leonard Cohen Ponders the Smaller Moments
by Rob O'Connor - Grapevine Culture

October 2004 - Review of Dear Heather - Tower Records

November 7, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Matt H. -
Soundsxp - Alternative Music Webzine

December 2, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Alexander Varty - The Georgia Straight

November 28, 2004 - Leonard Cohen's Farewell... by Jon Pareles - New York Times

December 2004 - Slow and Loaded like a Last Waltz
by Pirkko Kotirinta - Helsingin Sanomat (Finland)

24 Oct 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Luke Turner - Playlouder

November 25th, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Melora Koepke - The Hour (Ottawa)

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather - Stylus Magazine

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by J. Poet - Soundprint

October 30, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by John Mulvey - Times Online UK

November 04, 2004 - Burning for Eternity -
The Legendary Leonard Cohen Proves He's Not Yet Gone
by Alex Linhardt - The Cornell Daily Sun

October 29, 2004 - Man of Letters Still Embraces the Write Stuff
by Fiona Shepherd -

November 4, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Angie Baecker - The Daily Californian

October 25, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by David Cheal - Telegraph UK

November 8, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Robert Christgau - Village Voice

November 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by John Potter - Kansai Time Out

November 7, 2004 - Cohen Wallows in Wisdom Gained from Misfortune
by Randy Lewis, The Los Angeles Times - Indianapolis Star

November 5, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Tom Laskin - Isthmus

November 5, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Adam Dunlop-Farkas - The Yale Hearld

November 4, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Brian Howe - Pitchfork Review

29 October 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Michael Dwyer - The Age (Australia)

October 29, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather - Winnipeg Sun

October 27, 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Pamela Murray Winters -
The Washington Post

October 25, 2004 - Leonard Cohen Doesn't Try to Play It Cool by Ryan Lenz -
MSNBC Associated Press - Sound Bites

October 2004 - Review of Dear Heather by Thom Jurek - All Music Guide

October 2004 - Leonard Cohen Makes a 5-Star Return - The Metro (London)

October 24, 2004 - Leonard Cohen - Dear Heather by Simon Price -
Sunday London Independent

October 25, 2004 - Leonard Cohen - Dear Heather by Adrien Begrand -

Yale Daily News Review

October 29, 2004

Older, wiser and lovlier than ever Leonard Cohen

"We'll go no more a-roving/ So late into the night," Leonard Cohen sings on the opening track of his eccentric, challenging new album Dear Heather. But the underrated Cohen, who turned 70 in September, has continued to release album after album despite a failure to achieve widespread popularity or commercial success. His astonishing lyrical skill and the distinct ideas and themes of his work have remained largely constant within a musical landscape that has grown and changed with the times.

In its sound and content, Dear Heather marks the culmination of Cohen's music career. Though the album is inconsistent, with several rough spots of experimentation, its high points are as great as anything Cohen has ever released.

As its affable title indicates, Dear Heather is a quiet, musing work. The cynicism of The Future (1992) and the bleak incisiveness of Songs of Love and Hate (1971) are replaced by introspective contemplation befitting an artist who has just reached his 70th birthday. In that respect, the album has an additional perspective of several decades as well as the weight of serving as a reflection on his own work.

Cohen rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter in the 1960s, after having already published two novels and one anthology of poetry in Canada. In 1967, Cohen moved to the United States to pursue a career as a folksinger. His first album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), was popular among college students but his music never caught on with the mainstream. His work has been characterized by melancholy and lyrics that resemble poetry. In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk; the album's quiet reflection seems inspired by his religion.

Lyrically, Dear Heather is as strong as any album of his long career. Cohen pays tribute to his background as a poet by dedicating several songs to the people that influenced him, such as the Canadian poets Irving Layton and A.M. Klein, and F. R. Scott, once one of Cohen's professors. The album even begins with a tribute to Lord Byron; Cohen adapts the poem "Go No More A-Roving" into a jazzy, relaxed song.

"There For You" and "The Letters" are Cohen at his best, with effective musical instrumentation balancing lyrics that are nostalgic, pained and newly aware of mortality: "Death is old,/ But it's always new./ I freeze with fear/ And I'm there for you," he sings on "There For You." On these tracks, the melancholy quality of Cohen's famously unmusical vocals -- deep, coarse and monotone -- are well complemented by longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson's vocals to create a sublime beauty. Cohen's chant, quieted to a barely audible whisper at times, is all the more haunting on songs such as "On That Day," a response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Cohen has tried, mostly successfully, to incorporate a number of musical styles and elements into his work. Recently, his albums have been characterized by a fusion of country and folk, with the continued use of the synthesizer sounds that were so effective in increasing the scope and magnitude of albums like The Future.

Dear Heather, though, overuses synthesizers and solo saxophones, and sometimes ventures into the gray area between quiet, unhurried music and cheap elevator muzak. In particular, on the tracks "Villanelle For Our Time" and "To a Teacher," the music seems almost an afterthought to the admittedly fascinating lyrics. In "Villanelle" the sparse noodling on the synthesizer and horn sounds like half-formed ideas rather than realized music. Nevertheless, Cohen's deep, chanting voice commands attention and seriousness, smoothing these rough experimental passages into one continuous whole.

The title track, however, is a bizarre, unsuccessful experiment that is perhaps the weakest song on the album. A repetitive and almost childish melody plays under Cohen and singer Anjani Thomas's repetitive five-line chant. Cohen tries to achieve a certain effect with the repetition, but the result is difficult to listen to and out of context.

One wishes Cohen would stick to the kind of fascinating, unsettling beauty he proves himself so capable of on two of the last tracks, "Nightingale" and "The Faith" -- the album's masterpiece. Cohen's and Thomas's voices combine to give the song a haunting beauty, and its creative instrumentation and arrangement, which includes an enchanting violin solo, are gorgeous. The lyrics are nearly heartbreaking, filled with regret and pain. "So many graves to fill/ O love, aren't you tired yet?" he sings.

Cohen's words seem to look back upon his magnificent career; should this end up his final album, it will be a worthy coda. But the interesting and provocative Dear Heather indicates there is untapped potential that can yet be realized in years to come.

Contributed by Tchocolatl and Tom S.

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The Buffalo News

January 7, 2005

* * * (4 Stars - Highest Rating)

At 70, Leonard Cohen seems to have finally made peace with himself. That's a wonderful thing for Cohen, now a devout Buddhist. But is it good for Cohen the recordmaker and songwriter?

The answer suggested by Dear Heather is yes. And no.

On the plus side, Cohen manages to approach what for him will have to pass for happiness with the same unflinching gaze - one part stoicism, the rest a blend of wit, reverence and spite - he's brought to his best work, from Death of a Ladies Man to later winners like I'm You Man and The Future. The familiar croak is still here, more spoken-word suggestive of melody and rhythm than actual singing, and we welcome it. The lyrics remain brilliant and virtually without parallel. The cool, late-night vibe is intact, the ghosts of ladies hanging about like viscous specters from a Norman Mailer novel one minute, pale Ophelias the next.

The trouble is Cohen's seeming relaxation. He's placed the overarching ethic of his music in the hands of producer Sharon Robinson, which is not necessarily a bad thing, since she handled his last record, 10 New Songs, quite wonderfully. But this time around, there are moments when it seems a little too obvious that Robinson composed and recorded the music, Cohen showing up to add his bits over the top at a later date. As a result, there is a disembodied feel that plagues parts of the record though it never manages to wholly derail it.

There are moments of sublime, poetic beauty here, and they make up for a few spots that sound phoned-in: "The Letters" is the prime example.

There is a sense of inner peace throughout Dear Heather - and that's the first time anyone has been able to say as much about a Leonard Cohen record. Is it because of this that the record falls just a notch short of his best previous work? Maybe. But even a slightly substandard Cohen album is a wonder to behold.

Contributed by Marie.

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December 2004

* * * *

Leonard Cohen is probably one of those very few artists actually incapable of recording a bad album, because his presence and his voice are somehow enough. Yet while he really can't ever equal the aging ladies' man persona of I'm Your Man (1988) or the apocalyptic fury of 1992's The Future, Dear Heather is a remarkable work in itself, one that grows on listeners until they hit auto-repeat, and one that is actually a CD of experimental poetry: Cohen, always pushing the envelope, is breaking new ground and exploring new territory at 70. Will it win new fans? Every time anyone hears anything by Leonard Cohen for the first time, he seems to make one, and as he suggested on "I'm Your Man," he really has become all things to all people--his work here as elsewhere operates on multiple levels at once, just as Cohen's persona does for three generations of listeners.

Where 2002's Ten New Songs was somehow one of the sexiest albums ever made at the same time as Cohen turned off his aging ladies' man persona to highlight his vulnerable, brooding and introspective essence, Dear Heather is almost just as sexy because he brings it back again. And as always, it's very tongue-in-cheek and quite poignant at once: "Because of a few songs / Wherein I spoke of their mystery / Women have been kind to me / In my old age," he rasps on "Because Of." The social conscience is there in "Villanelle for Our Time," as is the Zen spirituality on "To a Teacher" and "The Faith."

The title track, like most of the other songs, presents Cohen's perennial preoccupation with memory, time, and loss--yet as he repeats a single quatrain about the image of a beautiful woman with a drink in her hand in his muskiest voice as the keyboards shimmer beneath it easing from key to key, it dawns on one that this sexy loss mantra is actually an ironic comment on the Cohen persona itself.

The album's finest track, however, is its first, "Go No More A-Roving," in which Cohen sets Lord Byron's poem to music--and it is perhaps the finest adaptation of an English Romantic poet ever recorded. Cohen has never been more smooth, and placing the song first on the album underscores Cohen's unique interpretation of Byron: the poem isn't about a relationship breaking up. It's an invitation to take one to a new level of passion.

Contributed by Colleen1986 and Tom S.

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Boston Herald

December 26, 2004

Septuagenarian poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen opens his 13th album with a sepulchral version of "Go No More A-Roving," the classic Irish farewell-to-carousing (and perhaps to life) adapted from a poem by Byron.

In the next 13 tracks, Cohen proves he means what he says, turning in one morbid, meandering number after another on his way to making the least melodic and most self-indulgent album of his long career.

On Dear Heather, it's almost as if Cohen has decided to forego music entirely, pruning instrumental settings to the bare minimum and beyond (although co-writer and singer Sharon Robinson retains a large share of the spotlight) and forcing his poetry to carry the weight. But if Cohen had wanted to make a spoken-word album he should have just done so. As music, Dear Heather is dull and tedious in a way that no amount of poetic brilliance can ameliorate.

Contributed by Tom S.

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Free Times

November 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

Leonard Cohen recently turned 70, and Dear Heather plays like a love letter to his life. It's surprisingly optimistic, even with its eulogistic tone. Cohen's best songs are about women, and Dear Heather is chock full of them, though they seem to be saying "goodbye." The music may sound like schmaltzy jazz, but Cohen's elegiac, almost spoken voice balances it with enough gravitas to justify repeated listens. His penetrating baritone has turned into an innocuous whisper over the years. Dear Heather is a quiet and engrossing album that proves age doesn't necessarily dictate artistic degradation.

Contributed by Marie.

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Creem Magazine

November 2004

It's a wonder anyone still wants him, but give thanks that some do.

It's a wonder anyone still has ears able to discern his quiet wisdom from the daily roar; to stop and reflect on what he has to say.

Here in Toronto, just as in the small pockets of resistance which exist elsewhere, there will always be those who will take heed of what Leonard Cohen has to say. And while their numbers may dwindle through attrition, collectively their unified spirit picks up the slack, filling in the space where others are absent.

The years pass, and his phrasing slows down to a deep resonant tone. His words shorten, but their meaning grows with a profound universal truth born out of experience, however imperfect and reluctant:

Some people say
It's what we deserve
For sins against g-d
For crimes in the world

I wouldn't know
I'm just holding the fort
Since that day
They wounded New York

Some people say
They hate us of old
Our women unveiled
Our slaves and our gold

I wouldn't know
I'm just holding the fort
But answer me this
I won't take you to court

Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day
On that day

They wounded New York

That small line between the 'g' and the 'd' is the difference between art and artifice.

Leonard Cohen understands.

Give thanks that he still has the patience to explain it to us, again.

Give thanks.

Contributed by Tom S.

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November 2004

Since 1967, Leonard Cohen has been releasing albums filled with beautifully poetic lyrics of substance and relevance. He began the '60s as an acclaimed poet and novelist, but by decade's end he had created his first two albums. The '70s and '80s saw him slowly growing from his folksy musical beginnings with the incorporation of a jazzier, smoky lounge sound. Cohen started the '90s with the excellent The Future, but spent the rest of the decade coping with depression by living in a monastery, so fans had to make do with tribute albums and a best-of collection. It is, then, a pleasant surprise for Cohen to have already released two albums of new material by the fourth year of the new millennium.

The second of these albums is his new disc Dear Heather. It is far more reflective of his live performances than its predecessor, 2001's Ten New Songs. So much so, in fact, that the last song on Dear Heather is a live recording of the steel guitar moaning "Tennessee Waltz." On the majority of Dear Heather, soft instrumentation provides a backdrop as Cohen's age-ravaged voice contrasts with smooth female backing vocals. A muted trumpet waltzes with an oscillating organ on the title track, over which Cohen sings the concise lyrics "Dear Heather / please walk by me again / with a drink in your hand / and your legs all white / from winter." So short and simple, yet so longingly beautiful.

Contributed by Tom S.

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The Phantom Tollbooth

November 21, 2004

Leonard Cohen has always been the cerebral rock star. After all, he was a novelist and poet first only turning to song to sell more product. Yet the mind is not Cohen's ultimate concern. He is all about the sensuality of heart and ardor of soul. This is the Canadian's eleventh album and is a whole lot less wordy than normal. When you consider that he had written fifty verses for some of the songs on 1992's The Future and that there are only five lines to the title track on this one, it suggests that our Jewish friend's time in the hills of California doing Zen Buddhist meditation has led to economy of word.

Another way that the spiritual pilgrimage of his sixtieth decade has influenced this work is the repetitive nature of some of the songs. The central piece here is "Villanelle For Our Time" which repeats the reflections of Frank Scott for almost six minutes. With any other artist, the overuse of the key lines, "from bitter searching of the heart/ We rise to play a greater part" would have grown wearisome but this is where Cohen's voice becomes to quote the Gospel writers, "as one having authority and not as the scribes." (Note for the spiritual squeamish; this is poetic licence with no theological intent!). By its end your soul is ready to refurbish your life; you want to give your soul a darn good thrashing, make it clean, and start all over to make your mark across the world.

Spiritual concerns are evident throughout and the album is topped and tailed by questions of love's stamina to hold out in a world that must weary it beyond measure. In Lord Byron's "Go No More A Roving" there is suggestion it needs a breather and the penultimate track, "The Faith," nicked from a Quebec folk song, asks, "Oh love, aren't you tired yet?" Of course a recent event that must have left love short of breath was 9/11 and Cohen gives it a short reflection leaving a few hints at answers ("Some people say/It's what we deserve/For sins against g-d/For crimes in the world") as he asks why. But in the end he is happy to get on with it in the confusion, refusing conclusions ("I wouldn't know/I'm just holding the fort/Since the day/they wounded New York").

One does always come back to Cohen's voice and early reviews have questioned its strength of power. Maybe he is speaking more and singing less but this voice is a powerful instrument and this seventy-year-old sings when asking for a cup of coffee. It has profound spiritual impact. Goodness what a preacher he would have made! It is also an astonishingly sensual sound and the sexiest pensioner in the world admits on "Because Of" that, "Because of a few songs/Wherein I spoke of their mystery/Women have been/Exceptionally kind to my old age." I bet they have Leonard!

It is, however, in the romantic department where the album makes its one failure. The title track is another exercise in repetition. This time it is only five lines about Heather's "legs all white from the winter". He even descends into spelling out white and winter. It is tedious and in truth, pathetic. Maybe an attempt at a little whimsy and humour. Failed!

As on 2001's Ten New Songs, Cohen's lack of vocal range is supplemented by the singing of Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas. When they throw another hue across songs like "Villanelle For Our Time" there are no doubts. When they take stretches on their own you are not so sure but when they light up the epiphany of "Morning Glory," you stop quibbling.

Like Cohen himself, his music is tailored and tasteful, handsome on the outside and tender of soul within. Earthly pleasure and heavenly desire rarely compliment each other so well.

Contributed by Tom S.

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November 6, 2004

Now 70 years old, Leonard Cohen is universally recognised as the godfather of gloom.

But over the course of his 35-year career he has sold 11 million albums and inspired generations of singer/ songwriters from John Cale to Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice, who all covered his 1984 classic Hallelujah.

Cohen's voice has lowered even more since then to the deep base tone we know and love but it is often an oppressive weight to bear and sometimes it is not until listeners hear his songs transformed by others that they begin to appreciate the poetic and melodic beauty that lurks within his songs.

Dear Heather comes relatively swiftly by Cohen's standards and follows 2001's Ten New Songs.

It's as profound and dark as you might expect yet well balanced, given air and light by the sweet voice of his conspirator and co-producer Sharon Robinson.

His 9/11 song On That Day is contemplative and puzzled while the spoken word jazz of Villanelle For Our Time is beautifully complemented by the soulful voice of Anjani Thomas.

It is not an easy-listening album despite some '80s production values but it does contain some of his best songwriting in years - even if it does take somebody else's interpretations to reveal it to the masses.

Link to article

Contributed by Tom S.

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Western Courier (Western Illinois University)

November 5, 2004

Grade B

Music lovers who have had their fill of Tom Waits's "Real Gone" and still crave moody sounds from a highly esteemed non-singer might want to get their hands on Dear Heather, the new album by longtime cult favorite Leonard Cohen.

Cohen's latest disc is an uneven collection of tracks that succeed only as much as the artist and his backup singers allow them to by means of their vocals.

This critique isn't meant to imply that Cohen is a bad singer, although people could characterize him that way if they judge singing by how well one hits musical notes and not by how well a person conveys feelings through intonations. After decades of great music from such unconventional singers as Waits, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, Cohen's traditional vocal limitations shouldn't sound so shocking.

But Dear Heather proves that voices like Cohen's can't carry every tune, even on a purely emotional level. Even when singing about love, Cohen sounds spooky. Thus, teaming him with Supremes-esque backup vocalists on compositions such as "Because Of" and "Go No More A-Roving" seems downright silly.

"Villanelle for Our Time" and the title cut find Cohen excessively in touch with his bohemian poet roots and not even trying to sing. The lack of effort results in no emotional context for those songs.

These vocal weaknesses don't exist on the male/female dialogue that makes up "The Letters" and "Undertow," near-perfect Cohen tracks that cause listeners to envision a dark room and hear the crackling fire.

Cohen's sincere performance on "There for You"" turns the lyrics into effective weapons of defense against attacks on his romantic loyalty. "On That Day," a response to Sept. 11, drifts by so calmly that one almost misses its succinct beauty.

An album that features plenty of missteps along with graceful movements, Dear Heather demands patience in exchange for its pleasures.

Contributed by Tom S.

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November 23, 2004

Take a trip on the good ship Leonard Cohen. Cohen is not a man to be rushed at any cost. The poet, author, intellectual and songwriter has released one of best albums ever. As per usual, albums don't come off the factory production line. He treats his work as an art form. It was only when I received a review copy of the Essential Leonard Cohen last year that I was converted. Though not everyone's cup of tea, partly due to his self - indulgent morbidity, this is a massive step forward in terms of accessibility. Dripping in sensuality from the very beginning, Go No More A - Roving,( words by Lord Byron and perhaps a personal statement) and intellectualisation in love and philosophy, it's almost as if Cohen's turned a corner - but not too big a corner. In effect, it's poetry in motion,: quaint, uncluttered with many spoken words, plus the added beauty of songbirds Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas who have a considerable input. Also look out for some smokey, stunning and understated sax play by Bob Sheppard - Undertow and the opening track, which at times, gives it a new Jazz feel. A reference to 9/11 On That Day; Cohen keeps an open mind, and resorts to becoming none judgemental, but elsewhere he never falls short of his directness eg There For You and The Letters. His cover of a Quebec folk song - The Faith - is an absolute tearjerker. Stewart and King's Tennessee Waltz is a stirring climax. It moves along like a steady ship, never causing too much of a splash - but drowning you in the warmth of the water. One for culture vultures and lovers in the world. Delightful.

Best tracks, 1, 3, 10.

Over his career Cohen has sold more than 11 million albums world-wide, which include -Songs from A Room, Songs Of Love And Hate, New Skin For The Old Ceremony, Death Of A Ladies' Man, Recent Songs, Various Positions, I'm Your Man, The Future, Ten New Songs.

Contributed by Tom S.

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October 2004

* * * *

Soon after Bob Dylan showed in the '60s how lyrics could go wherever a songwriter liked, Leonard Cohen mastered a melancholy sensuality juiced by the techniques of poetry. Dear Heather is top Cohen: It begins by addressing women ("Because Of") in a ripe, humane baritone, then gets dramatically literary ("The Letters"), looks at 9/11 ("On that Day"), and dovetails back toward sex with the subtle yet explosive title piece. Its lyrics read: "Dear Heather/Please walk by me again/ With a drink in your hand/And y"gs all white/From the winter." With a live version of the Grand Ole Opry standard "Tennessee Waltz," Cohen ends on a strange Nashville cloud. These are all country songs, you could say -- for wine bars.

Contributed by Tom S.

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Grapevine Culture

October 18, 2004

* * * *

There aren't many 70-year-old singer/songwriters out there. But if Leonard Cohen's eleventh studio album Dear Heather is any indication, maybe there should be a few more. For some 40 years now, this Canadian writer with a keen eye, a healthy sense of humor and a sense of personal rhythm has ignored all the safety advisories and health warnings and taken his creative ride at full speed, leaving a thousand bands of the moment in the dust.

Here, Cohen brings in producers Leanne Unger and Sharon Robinson, singer Anjani Thomas and other special guests to collaborate on this modest collection.

Where Cohen once wrote songs with a grand, sweeping vision ("Suzanne," "Bird On A Wire," "Democracy"), he's now content to write the abridged versions, smaller moments in quieter lives.

His voice keeps growing deeper, each new crease adding a foreboding sense of eternity. When it's stacked against the ever flowing beauty of his back-up singers, lush keyboard arrangements and touches of tenor sax and trumpet, Cohen sounds like a prophet traveling by luxury car from appointment to appointment.

The songs come across like prayers. "The Letters" is aged wisdom set to a concise melody. "On That Day" addresses 9-11 without judgment. The old country chestnut "Tennessee Waltz" is given an additional verse.

Playful yet brooding, silly yet sincere, Dear Heather is many things often at the same time, but always a testament to Leonard Cohen's never wavering belief in his own vision of the world - one that threatens apocalypse, but can also be made right with a woman's touch.

Contributed by Tom S.

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Tower Records

October 2004

While there are some familiar elements present, much of DEAR HEATHER is a stark contrast to virtually all of Leonard Cohen's previous recorded work. Where the Canadian troubadour's previous albums all sounded like carefully constructed towers of song, built piece by painstaking piece (and Cohen has confirmed this as his working process), DEAR HEATHER seems to be an entirely more spontaneous offering. One might speculate that longtime Buddhist Cohen has taken the precepts of Zen to heart in presenting a batch of compositions unmarred by the effects of obvious labor.

Lyrically and melodically, these songs are more sparse and pared-down than anything else in Cohen's catalog. Some are whittled down to only a simple recitation repeated numerous times over a skeletal chord progression. By simplifying his approach to such an extreme degree, it seems as though Cohen is trying to get as close as possible to the heart of his work, without the literary trappings of his past accomplishments. Nevertheless, one link with his previous work is the bonus live cut tacked on to the end of the disc. In the tradition of past quirky Cohen covers like Irving Berlin's "Always" and Richard Blakeslee's "Passing Thru," the gravel-voiced singer tackles the country classic "Tennessee Waltz" with trademark aplomb that also reminds the listener of Cohen's ever-present sense of humor.

Contributed by Tom S.

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Soundsxp - Alternative Music Webzine

November 7, 2004

Good old Len. At a time when too many of our aging heroes are shuffling off this mortal coil, he's actually upping his workrate. Dear Heather, like the ten new songs of its predecessor, is a collection of slow paced jazz-rock lifted into the stratosphere by the great man's sombre and grizzled tones. With his bittersweet and sardonically romantic, outlook intact he puts all manner of upstarts to shame. While there are some odder morsels, like the Barry Adamsonesque Morning Glory, mostly he's firmly reclaiming his territory from battered ironic crooners like Lambchop and [smog].

There's always going to be a place for someone who can view the events of 9/11 with real perspective as he does in On That Day. But beyond that, even when mocking his own status as an elder statesman, all his songs are imbued with an unimpeachable authority. Here's hoping that he keeps going for a few more years yet to keep the (relative) youngsters on their toes.

Contributed by Tom S.

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The Georgia Straight

December 2, 2004

The first time I heard Leonard Cohen's latest I was in the car, and I just about drove off the road laughing. But it wasn't the good kind of laughter, alas. It might have been the "jew's harp" on "Nightingale" that did it, or the oobie-doo background vocals on "Because Of", or the anguished-android delivery Cohen employs on the title track. I know that by the time he got around to his mawkish 9/11 anthem "On That Day"--and once that damned jew's harp returned--I was convinced this once-masterful songwriter has lost it in a big way.

There's little on Dear Heather to suggest otherwise--except, perhaps, "To a Teacher", in which Cohen recounts a long-ago visit to mentor-poet A. M. Klein, then resident in a Montreal psychiatric hospital. Here, at least, there's some real writing: "A long pain ending without a song to prove it" and "Did you confuse the messiah in a mirror/And rest because he had finally come?" Elsewhere Cohen sounds more like a lugubrious Neil Sedaka than the urbane ironist he once was--which is worth a laugh, but not a listen.

Contributed by Judith F.

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New York Times

November 28, 2004

On "Dear Heather" (Columbia), Leonard Cohen, 70, goes beyond autumnal to wintry: death-haunted and barren. It's an album of farewells to friends, lovers and, it seems, to desire itself. Some songs are virtually unadorned with poetic imagery and fall flat; in others, Mr. Cohen uses his calmly sepulchral voice for speech rather than melody. The production is homemade, mostly keyboards and drum machines, and the arrangements are filled out by seraphic women's voices, Mr. Cohen's only comfort. Most songs, including "On That Day," end up somnolent, but a handful - "The Letters," "There for You," "Nightingale" and especially "The Faith" - linger as bleak yet hopeful hymns.

Contributed by Dick.

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Helsingin Sanomat (Finland)

December 2004

Leonard Cohen still has a way with words and atmospheres

The unsurpassed soundtrack voice for late nights with red wine is now lower than on any previous record. The vocal delivery of Leonard Cohen, 70, is closer to reciting than singing - but does it matter? It sure doesn't.

Some of the songs on Dear Heather rank alongside his best material - no mean feat, as Cohen's career began almost 40 years ago. One of those songs is, without a shadow of doubt, Because Of - the aged ladies' man self-deprecatory account of women who "become naked in their different ways" for him to see - "because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery". "Look at me Leonard, look at me one last time", Anjani Thomas sings sweetly in the background. And no doubt Leonard looks at her - but is it for the last time?

In his lifetime, Leonard has sung about women, undressed them in his songs and touched their lovely bodies, at least with his mind, like he did in Suzanne. There have been at least two Suzannes in Cohen's life. Then, of course, there was the Norwegian Marianne (So Long, Marianne), Janis Joplin (Chelsea Hotel #2), Nancy (Seems So Long Ago, Nancy) and Rebecca. Nico (of Velvet Underground fame) was not in the least turned on by Cohen, but she too inspired a song: Take This Longing.

The next one up is the mysterious Heather. The woman who walks with her "legs all white from the winter" has driven the poet quite crazy. In the end, the old man is only capable of spelling his words, one letter at a time. - A dry, self-deprecatory humour shines through here as well.

In addition to his own material, Cohen sings lyrics by Lord Byron (Go No More A-Roving) and Frank Scott (Villanelle For Our Time) and dedicates songs to significant mentors such as his teacher, writer A.M. Klein (To A Teacher).

In terms of musical impact, the childishly trilling title track falls short of the mournfully beautiful The Letters (featuring Sharon Robinson as both a co-composer and a duet partner), the impressive recital of Morning Glory with its bass and vibraphone backing, and There For You, which can be viewed either as a declaration of love or a kind of cosmology. On That Day depicts "that day they wounded New York", leaving the listener with nothing but a weighty question, backed by a jew's harp.

The poems of Cohen, a Jew by birth, have always been rich in multi-layered mysticism, melancholy and depression. Even after his zen period, they are still there. In fact, Cohen has changed so little during his career that it's a bit baffling - even though his approaches to production have varied from his customarily sparse sound to his most pompous Phil Spector period of the 80's. On this album, the production chores are handled by the female trio of Robinson, Anjani and Leanne Ungar.

There are some traditional elements such as the angelic background vocals as well as certain musical trademarks: the bouzouki and the jew's harp. And then, of course, there are the waltzes. For a beat poet, Cohen is exceptionally keen on waltzing, and the triplet swing is present on this album as well. Slow, charged - and devout.

Contributed by Jarkko. Translated by Karri.

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24 Oct 2004

* * * * 1/2

"Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey/I ache in the places where I used to play," sang Leonard Cohen in 'Tower of Song'. If these felt like the words of a man dealing with the awareness of late middle age back in the 1980s, then the songs of 'Dear Heather' are those of a man who knows that he is well into his twilight years. Leonard Cohen is 70 now. I think of that and his 80,000 cigarettes that carved this rich, velvety voice that's half croon, half narration...

Now I have found 'Dear Heather', and listened to it over and over. And for the first time in my awareness of Leonard Cohen, his words made me feel the heartache that he usually cures. I have worried for Cohen's mortality for some time, and now it seems that he is expressing this awareness of an end, too.

"So we'll go no more a-roving" go the backing singers at the album's opening. Then Cohen, cutting in "So we'll go no more a-roving / so late into the night / though the heart be still as loving / And the moon be still as bright / for the sword outwears the sheath / the soul outwears the breast / the heart must pause for breath / and love itself have rest".

I had tears in my eyes the first time I listened to 'Dear Heather'. There's humour here - "because of a few songs /wherein I spoke of their mystery / women have been exceptionally kind" he sings with a wry glint in his eye on 'Because Of'. But this aside, there is an unrelenting feeling of a fading face at a train window, a last glance before a long voyage that may be without end. It is so hard to hear that Leonard Cohen may be saying farewell, because for over a decade he has meant more to me than any other artist I could name. I remember, when my dad used to play Leonard Cohen in his study, bellowing along; I'd be there complaining about this 'suicide music', joking about getting the razorblades out.

And then I suppose I reached a certain age of adolescence when I went to find a teacher in addition to my father. And my father, in a way, had provided that teacher for me. I dug through his Leonard Cohen records, in the cabinet that had a certain musty scent that to this day is the scent of music, and I was transfixed. Leonard Cohen taught me more about a certain idea of love and women and yearning and beauty than any other person has ever managed, be they someone known to me, or a stranger.

From the shared experience of Cohen that I have had with so many of my friends over the years, I've come to realise that he is the one artist who reaches through three generations with his soul, rather than musical heritage. Cohen is never remembered in the same way that perhaps the Beatles are, certainly Dylan. They are passed down like musty heirlooms, becoming increasingly tattered with each inheritance. Cohen's music, not being music, is timeless. His poetry can never die.

Of course Cohen can't sing, but what matter that when the words are so rich? After all, he is a reluctant musician, initially writing the likes of 'Susanne' for female folk singers. In 'Villanelle for our Time', based on a poem by Canadian poet Frank Scott, his voice pours from the speakers, caressing the ears like warmed treacle that stops them from hearing anything else save these words.

The musical backing the songs of 'Dear Heather' is simple, bringing together of all the ties Cohen has employed over the past thirty or so years, excepting the vastly under-rated use of synthesisers on 'I'm Your Man' and 'The Future'. There's the kangaroo-twangs of the Jews harp, Spanish guitar, the mournful viola that was all over 'Recent Songs'. It's beautifully arranged; most sweepingly in one with the last track (I'm not counting the pointlessly tacked on live cover of 'Tennessee Waltz') 'The Faith'.

I cannot go far enough to persuade you how much you must hear this album, for Leonard Cohen's poetry speaks for itself. I just hope that 'Dear Heather', this note-to-self, to women, to love, to the world, to all of us, is not Leonard Cohen's self-penned epitaph.

Contributed by Marie.

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The Hour (Ottawa)

November 25th, 2004

This latest offering from Mt. Baldy's favourite seeker is worrisome. Is Cohen finally losing whatever it was he once had? In his old age (or prolonged adolescence) he has taken to scrawling invented esoteric symbols that signify, you know, spiritual things, all over the place. The liner notes are covered in these doodles, and so is the music. The record kicks off with a terrible, sax-laced adult contempo version of Lord Byron's Go No More a-Roving dedicated to Cohen's late best friend, Irving Layton. And it goes from there deeper into the ridiculous via an array of dubious backup singers and assorted laughable instrumentals. Several songs, as well as the album itself, are dedicated to dearly departed friends. The rest settle scores with old lovers; there are a couple of halfhearted love songs, and of course the requisite 9/11 ballad. Sad.

Contributed by Dick.

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Stylus Magazine

November 2004

Are we moving towards some transcendental moment?
"Morning Glory", from
Dear Heather

Well, are we?

Not so long ago, Leonard Cohen turned seventy years of age. Having spent so much of that time scribbling the most oblique, scholarly words on his blackening pages, you may be forgiven for thinking it's time for something truly revelatory. Since he began writing (first in books of poetry, then novels--songwriting was originally only a ploy to raise dwindling funds), Cohen offered snapshots of personal experience tainted by religious or erotic terminology, seamlessly woven with elements of mythology from some of his most beloved scrolls. Explaining his first (and perhaps his most famous) song, "Suzanne", he said "everything happened exactly as it was written down". I've always hoped he'd elaborate; after all, he has so many gaps to fill, and so many interested people to tell. But, as his former rival and one-time collaborator Bob Dylan pours out his curious memoirs in a recently published autobiography, Chronicles, Cohen only baffles further.

When Woody Guthrie was dying from Huntington's chorea, Bob Dylan made regular pilgrimages to his hero's dwelling, eager to soak up everything he could of the man behind the music before it was too late. Even though he's in reasonable health, increasingly often I find myself worrying that no one will do similar with Leonard Cohen. With the apparent complacency that has dogged his recent recordings (The lazily titled Ten New Songs suggesting disinterest and an album only to keep Columbia at bay, his incessant need to collaborate/cover/quote lengths of other wordsmiths), I can't help but wonder if I'm more concerned than he is.

Perhaps it's the recent death of Johnny Cash, perhaps that of Ray Charles--perhaps it's the overbearingly mournful timbre that crawls all over Dear Heather which panics me so. It's present in "Nightingale", a tribute to the late R&B vocalist Carl Anderson, 9/11 ode "On That Day" and the sleevenote dedication to Jack McClelland, a Canadian publisher who discovered Leonard way back when. In this climate, the speculation that Cohen will go into full retirement in the near future is inevitable, making this a potential parting shot of the songwriter.

Lord Byron's "Go No More A-Roving" seems indicative of a man ready to wind down, but only in the tenderest way. It seems contradictory that something as destructive as nicotine could be responsible for a voice so soothing, so knowing. That same voice croons the closing cover of country classic "Tennessee Waltz", for once revisiting his (musical, not geographical) roots, and not before time. "Because Of" examines the way in which Leonard still seems to gain the attention of women, who have been "exceptionally kind" to his old age. But even his lovers fear the worst, insisting, "Look at me Leonard / Look at me one last time".

"Morning Glory" perfects the decaying stream-of-consciousness lyricism Michael Stipe made famous on "Country Feedback" whilst Frank Scott's "Villanelle For Our Time" emerges as an empowering mantra over quiet, lounge jazz. So many of Dear Heather's songs are effectively poetry readings set to music, and these experiments work best in the instances Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas are allowed to exercise their temperamental backing vocals to the full. Musically, the title track continues Cohen's penchant for dated keyboard effects, whilst the obscure lyric repeats and reiterates in the hope that it might eventually mean something.

Despite the distraction provided by Heather's winter-white legs, Dear Heather is essentially an album of eulogies. As honourable and unselfish as that concept is, we're left to wonder exactly who--if the man himself is so preoccupied with the death of others--is documenting this phase of Leonard's life? Really, we can only hope that this isn't the end of Leonard's story. There must be more. But if this is the end, then I'm sorry to report that Dear Heather is a particularly dour, unsatisfying way to end such an intriguing career.

Contributed by Tom S.

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November 2004

A collection of restrained pop that sounds
equally prepared for life and death

Nobody is neutral on Leonard Cohen-you either love him or dismiss him. This review is for those in the former camp, who will relish this collection, one of the most pop albums the poet has made. That's pop in the classic Frank Sinatra/Rosemary Clooney manner; these are bluesy songs of gentle heartbreak, expressed with the restraint of an adult who's lost everything yet dares to dream of redemption and forgiveness. It's also Cohen's most Zen album-minimal and empty, struggling with mortality, even more pared down than 2001's Ten New Songs. The title track could be a country waltz, but the lyric is a recitation of several unrhymed lines by a chorus of gravel-throated Cohens. "Go No More A-Roving" is a Byron lyric set to music inspired by Memphis soul; the melody of "Nightingale" echoes "The Minstrel Boy," and Cohen's Jew's Harp solo accents the song's yearning for a lost (or dead) lover. The album includes Cohen's first recordings of poetry as well. "To a Teacher," his eulogy for A.M. Klein, a recitation of frank Scott's "Villanelle for Our Time," and "Morning Glory"-the album's most Zen track, a meditation on enlightenment, or maybe death's approach, with a jazzy soundtrack of walking bass and vibra-harp.

Contributed by Dick.

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Times Online UK

October 30, 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

For those who abandoned Leonard Cohen and his elegant ruminations around the time that they left university, the news that he continues to make albums may come as a surprise. One suspects that Cohen himself is amused by its improbability, too: after all, he has just turned 70 and has spent much of the past decade at a Buddhist monastery in California. His eleventh album, however, reveals that Cohen is as profound a poet as ever, even if nowadays he sounds like a poet unravelling the mysteries of life while fronting a lounge band on a cross-Channel ferry.

The tinny, ersatz backing actually makes Cohen's oak-aged, lugubrious baritone seem more resonant than ever as the rueful old philosopher steals a few lines from Lord Byron, or meditates on September 11 before deciding its momentousness is inexpressible. Chiefly, though, he is concerned with the pleasures of women and the serenity that faith can bring.

The title track finds him transfixed by a female leg, while what may be a Bontempi organ gets jammed on "Bierkeller" setting in the background. Villanelle for Our Time, meanwhile, is magnificent. "From bitter searching of the heart, we rise to play a greater part," he intones, suggesting that 40 years spent anatomising his emotions have not been in vain.

Like so much great art, what initially resembles one man's solipsistic endeavour proves to be richly, universally rewarding.,,7948-1333699,00.html

Contributed by Marie.

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The Cornell Daily Sun

November 04, 2004

For as long as I can remember, every Leonard Cohen album has been greeted with hissing accusations that this would be his last recording ever. One imagines that critics were already prophesizing Cohen's demise in 1968, after the release of The Songs of Leonard Cohen. This speculation is probably a result of the doomed atmospherics and macabre themes of his early acoustic years. It didn't help matters when he released 1988's I'm Your Man, a fuming paean to narcissistic relationships, failed drug wars and clandestine debauchery. Now Cohen is 70 years old, and certain critics are again hailing Dear Heather as a climactic finale to a legendary singer-songwriter's career.

This reaction is clearly preposterous and fumbles any accurate synopsis of what makes Cohen's voice so distinctive and evocative. It is a voice that cannot wilt away: imperturbable, monolithic, sepulchral. With its rasped apathy, it resonates like the word of a god or a devil, displaying no trace of frailty; it seems to have existed since the dawn of time. And on Dear Heather, his first album since 2001's excellent Ten New Songs, Cohen has deployed this famous faculty with the sort of grace and easiness that defines a classic album.

After the recent and extraordinary releases of his contemporaries (Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Tom Waits), Cohen has seemingly been reinvigorated, compiling his suaveness, self-aggrandizement and cynicism into dense, elaborate fragments. The skewed, steely reggae and exotic ambiance of "Because Of" is minimal but volatile, promising a surge of lust. But it's all belied by the wit and self-parody of the lyrics: "Because of a few songs / Wherein I spoke of their mystery / Women have been / Exceptionally kind / To my old age." His unwavering voice is equipped with the deadest of deadpan deliveries, as if he had been singing this song for millennia.

On "Morning Glory," Cohen's voice is further degraded and amplified. Spoken-word metaphysics are tape-looped over one another into a mighty and completely inscrutable sound collage. A solitary and blazed bass jumps off the walls like it was in a Beat bar at 5 a.m. It's claustrophobic, nocturnal nonsense without any appeal to sheen or accessibility. If this sounds like more of Cohen's hysterical caricatures of apathy and hopelessness, concerned listeners should probably turn the album off by "On That Day." Eschewing the arrogant jingoism and mournful self-pitying of Iraq War songs by Toby Keith and Bruce Springsteen, Cohen is simultaneously hilarious and poignant, ambivalent and mournful: "Some people say / They hate us of old / Our women unveiled / Our slaves and our gold / I wouldn't know / I'm just holding the fort." A wry guitar lingers in the background, and the flourishes of a Jew's harp make a remarkably unserious song about international terrorism that much more absurd.

But this is fundamentally an album about love and its absence. Cohen is famous for his torch songs, abounding with a fatalism and fatality that no other '60s-bred songwriter outside of Dylan has used to such crushing, brilliant effect. Here, there is an overwhelming preoccupation with the languorous moments after a relationship when emotions are burned out and minds begin to efface old memories. "O love, aren't you tired yet?" collaborator Anjani Thomas sings to Cohen. There is not the faintest glint of fury or hysteria. Jazz sax lounges over slowly plucked basses and honeyed back-up singers. Secretive synths brush against trip-hop clicks and sleek R&B percussion. Caribbean organs and lilting whispers flay out, free of direction or motivation.

With this emphasis on reverie comes a formal indebtedness to the past and the personal. Lord Byron's "Go No More A-Roving" is updated on the first track, making for the second-best Byron song this year (after The Fall). The words of Cohen's deceased friends and poets Frank Scott and Carl Anderson make an appearance as well. But the most provocative material comes from the country standard "Tennessee Waltz." Recorded live, it bears no similarity to the unexpected exhilaration of versions by Sam Cooke and Patsy Cline. Instead, Cohen sounds like a former lover devoid of all ambition and pleasure, with the sad monotone of the best performances by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Forlorn and forgotten, his voice nevertheless perseveres, as if it has lived through quite a few lifetimes already and might as well stick around for a few more.

Contributed by Marie.

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October 29, 2004

LAUGHING Leonard Cohen turned 70 last month. Surely only jazz musicians live and work that long? Having first established himself as a poet, Cohen was a late bloomer in the musical realm, and has never been the most prolific of songwriters - Dear Heather is only his 11th studio album in 37 years - but right now his reputation looks as unsinkable as Johnny Cash's. Hallelujah, to take just one example from his back catalogue, is better loved now than ever.

But, unlike Cash, who arguably saved his best work for last, Cohen has never bettered, or even equalled, the songs by his younger self. With recent releases, he has been criticised for his flaccid musical direction and Dear Heather begins with both the sublime and the ridiculous. Go No More A-Roving is a smoochy soul arrangement of a Byron poem, complete with languid sax, "sung" by Cohen so down in his boots he is practically subsonic, and so husky he makes Tom Waits sound like Aled Jones. Sadly, the polished 1980s treatment does the beautiful words a disservice. However, the poem - about the loss of passion in the twilight years - is a judicious choice, as it introduces a theme which Cohen takes up in the first of his self-penned lyrics.

Because Of is soulful in spirit rather than genre. It is the septuagenarian Cohen's tribute "to all the girls I've loved before". "Because of a few songs/wherein I spoke of their mystery/women have been exceptionally kind to my old age" he drawls with eloquent economy. As usual, he has drafted in a couple of "angels" - female singers who provide mellifluous vocal contrast to his tobacco-tarred larynx and, in many cases, supply the only semblance of a tune.

No matter - with Cohen, it will always be about the lyrics. Most of the tracks here are musically understated but lyrically resonant. Some are little more than sketches, but they are marvellous in their simplicity, making their point with a few deft brushstrokes.

The title track is a mere five-line digest ("Dear Heather/please walk by me again/with a drink in your hand/and your legs all white/from the winter") repeated catatonically over a loping track reminiscent of a silent movie soundtrack or end-of-pier organ. Sometimes Cohen literally spells out the words; as for the meaning, he leaves enough space for the listener to fill out their own picture.

More than past albums, Dear Heather feels like a collection of poetry and prose set to music rather than a batch of new songs. He dedicates some of the tracks to fellow Canadian poets and, in addition to the adaptation of the Byron poem, recites Frank Scott's Villanelle For Our Time over a subtle jazz piano backing. He has the kind of resounding, portentous voice ideal for narrating horror fiction, but the poem is in classic hope-from-adversity mode, and makes for an inspiring response to the preceding track, On That Day, Cohen's touching, inquiring hymn about "that day they wounded New York".

The Letters feels like an exquisite short story adapted into a less compelling song, taking the form of a leisurely but rueful conversation between the sanguine Cohen and Sharon Robinson, whose creamy contralto also featured on 2001's Ten New Songs.

His other vocal foil is Anjani Thomas, who has been working with him since the mid-80s, but now becomes a full-blown collaborator, where her expressive country-tinged voice leavens numerous tracks. Morning Glory sets its scene with lounge jazz ambience and Cohen intoning like the badass anti-hero of a film noir, but it concludes with Thomas's pure vocal intervention, floating over the top and providing the kind of redemptive bliss which Julee Cruise gave to David Lynch's Twin Peaks.

She carries Cohen through the blithe Nightingale, a Dolly Partonesque country lament for times past. He is not exactly sentimental in his old age, but Cohen is in reflective mood throughout. "I see my life in full review," he broods at one point. Some have suggested that Dear Heather is a winding down of affairs, but it seems unlikely that Cohen will hang up his pen when he is clearly still such a fertile wordsmith.

Incidentally, the website for the album is available in 13 languages, including Serbian and Lithuanian. Appropriate for an album for people who love language, rather than music.

Contributed by Marie.

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The Daily Californian

November 4, 2004

Leonard Cohen remains a brilliant lyricist and a legendary folk singer, but his latest release is an exploration of lilting, non-traditional melody that may not bide well with some listeners.

Dear Heather is a varied collection of songs: "On that Day" is Cohen's poetic and understated mediation upon 9/11, "Go No More A-Roving," a slow, sultry interpretation of the Lord Byron poem, and the title track an experiment with chant, delivered in a staccato, almost robotic performance by Cohen along with his back-up singers. With Dear Heather, Cohen serenely continues exploring the artistic vision established through previous albums. The album's construction is rough, completely void of the smooth-jazz production quality which was a point of contention between critics of his last album.

Women feature prominently throughout the album, through Cohen's lyrics, female back-up vocals, and recordings with Sharon Robinson. The gentle self-deprecation in "Because Of" is tender and lasting: "Because of a few songs/Wherein I spoke of their mystery,/Women have been exceptionally kind/to my old age."

Cohen leans away from the more traditional instrumentations of song; most notably, the backbone of each song is the keyboard, not the guitar, and structures the rest of the harmony with tenor sax and Jew harp.

Leonard Cohen is an artist unaffected by pop and trend, so it is unsurprising that the compositions on his new album do not follow the predominant formulas of verse-chorus-verse, or intro-climax-resolution. Many of the songs do not build beyond the breathings of their opening, as Cohen emphasizes poetry over melody. Dear Heather is heady material, and those looking for easy listening or a catchy riff have purchased the wrong album.

Contributed by Marie.

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Telegraph UK

October 25, 2004

He went up a Californian mountain to join a Buddhist monastery, came down with a bunch of poems and songs, and subsequently released 2001's patchy, sparse-sounding 10 New Songs.

Now, in what for Leonard Cohen amounts to a flurry of creative activity, he's back with this strange, disparate, occasionally marvellous collection, on which his voice descends to new depths of husky rumbliness.

Often he's not singing, but reciting poetry in his droll, dry Canadian accent, talking about a time of life (he's now 70) when women come to him and bend over his bed and, as he shivers, "cover me up like a baby".

And when he does sing, at times it's almost like the sound of one man disappearing: on Morning Glory he's just a low mumble, barely audible among angelic female voices and - not for the first time on an album that is too often let down by its instrumentation - an irksome squelchy synthesizer.

But then he comes rumbling back on The Faith, a magnificent thing based on a Quebec folk song, with a plaintive piano, accordion and strings, and a gently swooping refrain of "Love, aren't you tired yet?" The answer, apparently is no; world-weary, perhaps, but not tired, not yet.

Contributed by Dick.

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Village Voice

November 8, 2004

B Rating

I know it's hard to get a grip on, kids, but people keep getting older. They don't just reach some inconceivable benchmark--50 or, God, 60--and stop, Old in some absolute sense. The bones, the joints, the genitals, the juices, the delivery systems, and eventually the mind continue to break down, at an unpredictable pace in unpredictable ways. Leonard Cohen has had No Voice since he began recording at 33. But he has more No Voice today, at 70, than he did on Ten New Songs, at 67--the tenderness in his husky whisper of 2001, tenderness the way steak is tender, has dried up in his whispered husk of 2004, rendering his traditional dependence on the female backups who love him more grotesque. Nor does noblesse oblige underlie all the adaptations and settings--Lord Byron, Patti Page, a Quebecois folk song, various dead Canadian poets, himself. Rather they reflect the same diminished inspiration that makes you wonder whether his 9/11 song is enigmatic or merely inconclusive. Not only do I like the guy, I'm Old enough to identify with him. But I doubt I'll ever be Old enough to identify with this. On her deathbed, my 96-year-old mother-in-law was still relying on Willie Nelson's Stardust. That's more like it.

Contributed by Dick.

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Kansai Time Out (Japan)

November 2004

Seldom has a man's fortune changed so much. From being the 1960s poet of doom and gloom, Leonard Cohen at 70 has outlasted most of his contemporaries and seems to be having the last laugh. His rise in critical status is fully justified on the evidence of this latest work, which might even lay claim to being his best yet. Ably assisted with vocals, arrangements and songwriting by Anjani Thomas and Sharon Robinson, Cohen's songs now have a sparse, lightness of touch. Far from being depressing, this is varied, quirky, surprising and ultimately uplifting.

Contributed by Jarkko.

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Indianapolis Star

November 7, 2004

* * * (4 Stars - Highest Rating)

At last, Canada's rock poet laureate crafts a party album destined to ingratiate him with today's feel-good youth generation. . . .

Just kidding.

At 70, the longtime champion of the romantically dispossessed isn't changing his stripes, and why should he?

Few do pain, regret and longing better than Cohen. And in his second album of the new millennium, he remains a master of the genre.

Cohen shares songwriting duties with heady company, Lord Byron at the top of that list. He gives Byron's "Go No More A-Roving" a '50s R&B-cum-smooth jazz musical setting in which to explore the toll that time can exact on the heart and spirit.

But more than reveling in hurt, which can have its cathartic effect, Cohen uses the album to examine the wisdom that can accompany misfortune, for those who desire to find it. Using the words of fellow Canadian poet Frank Scott's "Villanelle for Our Time," Cohen points the way to transcendence: "From bitter searching of the heart/ Quickened with passion and with pain/ We rise to play a greater part. . . ."

The intimate recording also allows the listener to feel every sonorous breath and syllable that passes Cohen's lips, that deep, rich bass-baritone somehow managing to remain audible, even while dropping lower than Barry White's.

Contributed by Marie.

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Isthmus (Madison, Wisconsin)

November 5, 2004

Hard to believe that Leonard Cohen's 70, but time marches on even for the most talented of hipsters. These days his already deep, spooky voice has taken on a raspy quality that adds an aura of time-worn wisdom to everything he intones, and Dear Heather is nothing if not a testament to his ability to endure and grow as dozens of musical trends came and went. Can't say I care much for the smooth, R&B-inflected saxophone work that colors his interpretation of Byron's "Go No More A-Roving," but with stripped-down backing tracks deftly undergirding most tunes, that one musical misstep is easy to ignore.

What's good here? Just about everything. "Because Of" is a poetic -- and deceptively simple -- salute to Cohen's female followers, and the harpsichord-anchored recitative "The Letters" echoes with the kind of authority that only comes from a lifetime of emotional experience. His brief lament for Sept. 11, "On That Day," raises goose bumps each time he repeats its haunting refrain: "The day they wounded New York." And his unexpectedly languorous take on "Tennessee Waltz," which closes the disc, will bring a lump to the throats of the hardest men. Here's one recording artist who's traveled gracefully from youth to old age...and learned something on the way, to boot. intcdrevid=575

Contributed by Joe W.

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The Yale Hearld

November 5, 2004

With Bob Dylan doing commercials for Victoria's Secret and those Americans with a penchant for 1960s folk music already looking to Canada for refuge, Leonard Cohen's 11th release Dear Heather, seems timed to fill a void in American music. Many might wonder, however, if a 70-year-old Cohen is up to this task, or whether he has gone the way of much of his former fan base by settling too comfortably into the commercially-driven culture which his fans formerly rebelled against.

The first few moments of the album seem to say he has chosen the latter route, as the track "Go No More A-Roving" opens with the slow jazz usually associated with elevators rather than folk legends. This easy-listening impression instantly vanishes when Cohen himself enters, his scratchy voice resonating with the antiquated depth of Lord Byron's words against the song's lighter sound. He asserts his presence like a white folk artist's version of soul legend Barry White. He reinforces this persona with the sound and subject matter of the next track, "Because Of," Cohen's ode to the "women [who] have been/exceptionally kind/to [his] old age."

The album is not Cohen's rediscovery of his libido at age 70, however. It is more of a melancholy reflection on human compassion. Rather than driving him towards selfishness and introversion, Cohen's old age seems to have made him more attuned to the suffering and emotions of others, transforming his latest release into a series of commemorations urging brotherhood and rationality. He acknowledges the historic tragedy of Sept. 11 with "On That Day," but tempers any reactionary desires with truth-seeking sobriety: "Did you go crazy/or did you report", he asks with Anjali Thomas, claiming that he himself is only "holding the fort."

Cohen's own ego is secondary to anything else on this album, much of which is collaborated with Thomas and Sharon Robinson. He borrows words he finds meaningful, from Byron and the more recently deceased poet Frank Scott. As he says on "There For You," "I always knew/it was never me/I was there for you."

While Cohen may have been a pioneer in the past, he is not doing anything particularly groundbreaking here. Still, he does not rehash a tested formula or rely on his status as Cohen. He preserves his unique style, giving us a collection of literary songs that fall somewhere between folk and jazz, preserving his iconic place and offering insights into our contemporary situation.

Contributed by Marie.

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Pitchfork Review

November 4, 2004

Rating: 8.0

Although this is Leonard Cohen's second album since a decade-long absence from recording that began after the release of 1992's The Future, the reality of his return is still difficult to get your brain around. When he emerged from years of monastic exile to issue 2001's Ten New Songs, it was like discovering a long-deceased relative sitting in the parlor and patting their lap for you to come sit as if they'd never left. Life after death suits Cohen. He's always been a box of paradoxes: Canada's poet laureate singing songs for New York; a voice made more beautiful by its untaught commonplaceness; and, according to Anjani Thomas, "the only man I know who pairs Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with a 1982 Chateau La Tour."

Dear Heather is the 70-year-old singer's 11th studio recording, and it suits his age. The backing music evokes NPR filler (you can either thank or curse producer Leanne Ungar for this)-- nocturnal smooth jazz, elevator sax lines, and aged hipster tropes-- but Cohen's towering presence and deft songwriting breathe life into the lite-jazz arrangements, a reminder that the oft-abused genre is innately pleasant. The juxtaposition of Cohen's canny sophistication with the fanciful music results in a smoothness with an edge; a razor wrapped in silk.

It's fitting that the man who returned from oblivion sings like a ghost: Cohen's voice is almost gone. His resonant baritone has flattened and deepened to a papery whisper; he sounds how Tom Waits might if a powerful lozenge scoured away the rusty pots and pans clanging on his vocal cords. But Cohen has always been adept at turning liabilities into advantages, and his voice scrapes powerfully over the evocative music.

Dear Heather continues Cohen's longtime collaborations with Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas. Robinson-- a talented singer, songwriter, and producer-- has been working with Cohen since the late 1970s, and jazz singer Thomas has since 1984. Besides co-writing and arranging many songs on the album, both singers' angelic voices paint bright stripes across Cohen's broad swathes of gray and keep them from diffusing into aether. They're the cavorting muses to his bohemian elder statesman, propping up the weary lion in winter as he sings of sorrow and redemption.

The dark, wistful "The Letters" is a throwback to classic Cohen brooders like "Last Years Man"; barely-there murmurs slink over ascetic piano and guitar. Cohen's stately stage whisper, "Your story was so long/ The plot was so intense", amplifies the aching loveliness of Robinson's chorus. The libidinous "Because Of" proves the old dog's still got some lead in his pencil. Over a percolating shuffle remindful of Rain Dogs-era Waits, Cohen indulges a bit of sly self-awareness: "Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery/ Women have been exceptionally kind to my old age". And the title track finds Cohen intoning one short verse ("Dear Heather, please walk by me again/ With a drink in your hand/ And your legs all white from the winter"), sometimes speaking the words and sometimes spelling parts of them-- all over a trilling circus organ, trumpets, and breathy harmonies. This is Cohen at his most playful and enigmatic; clipped motes of ephemeral photo-realism.

The second mode of Dear Heather is literally elegiac: More than a third of its songs are dedicated to passed friends and colleagues. "Go No More A-Roving" is a Lord Byron sonnet set to jazzy muzak, in memory of the great Canadian poet, novelist and pedagogue Irving Layton, who was Cohen's teacher at the Jewish parochial school Herzliah. "On That Day" is Cohen's 9/11 song, which he handles with his usual humility, responding to the scenery-chewing on both sides of the moral axis with a resigned, musical shrug of helplessness: "I wouldn't know, I'm just holding the fort/ Since that day they wounded New York". The song's simplicity-- all starry piano and springy Jew's harp (which is usually an antic, clownish embellishment, but which Cohen has proved able to use tastefully at least since "Bird on a Wire")-- imbues it with a weary sorrow that casts ripples throughout the album. It's immediately contrasted by "Villanelle for Our Time", dedicated to Frank Scott, which recasts the late poet's villanelle as a beatnik spoken word piece, and seems a spiritual tonic responding to "On That Day": "From bitter searching of the heart/ Quickened with passion and with pain/ We rise to play a greater part".

Ascribing a numerical value to Cohen feels like rating a sunrise or a religion; one feels absurdly insufficient. Because inaccuracy would be a ghastly dishonor to the candid spirit of Cohen's music, I wrestled prodigiously with my rating. Was I inflating it because of my regard for its author? This sort of lite-jazz is certainly outside of my usual purview. Would these songs still be enchanting if similarly sung by a less hallowed figure? I decided that the honest answers were yes and no, respectively, but that this did nothing to gainsay the rating. That authorship is a silent but vital aesthetic component of art is a point Borges incontrovertibly proved in "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote", which I'll encapsulate with its final sentence: "Would not the attributing of The Imitation of Christ to Louis Ferdinand Celine or James Joyce be a sufficient renovation of its tenuous spiritual counsels?" As long as an album's impact is genuinely felt, it's inconsequential if the impact partially stems from the powerful aura of its creator.

Dear Heather is gorgeous, quietly poignant rendering of autumnality. Only Cohen could have pulled it off. And unlike Ten New Songs, I can't stop listening to it, which seems the ultimate justification for praise. Above all else, it's an honest document of this stage of Cohen's life, and it therefore honors his lifelong commitment to unflinching self-scrutiny. With its scattered, melancholic requiems permeating their neighbor songs by osmosis, one can't help but feel the entire album amounts to Cohen preemptively penning his own eulogy. In doing so, he defies Dylan Thomas's directive to not go gentle into that good night; instead he whispers, whispers to the dying of the light. It's a perfectly apt home stretch for an oeuvre that has always been marked by grace, equanimity, and quiet dignity.

Contributed by Marie.

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The Age (Australia)

29 October 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

Just past his 70th birthday and three years after Ten New Songs, these 13 offerings comprise a smorgasbord by Leonard Cohen's frugal standards. Then again, the time means little to Canada's greatest living poet. From the Barry White boudoir vibe of the opening track, he makes no concessions to musical fashion, the better to emphasise the profundity of his content: precious handfuls of words pared to a concentrated essence of accumulated wisdom. He borrows some from other poets here, fallen comrades who evidently loom large in his mortal thoughts. "Go No More A-Roving" is adapted from Lord Byron and dedicated to his old mentor, Irving Layton. The incredibly moving "Villanelle For Our Time" is by Frank Scott, intoned like an incantation in Cohen's deep voice of countless cigarettes, as though the power of the words can make hope into reality in these days of unprecedented strife. "This is the faith from which we start / Men shall now commonwealth again / From bitter searching of the heart / We rise to play a greater part." As an affirmation of our times, it has a certain edge on "What about me / It isn't fair / I've had enough / Now I want my share." The spoken "To A Teacher," from his second book of poems in '61, is one of several reflections on Cohen's past. Muttered over a shuffling jazz groove, "Morning Glory" is reminiscent of his beat-style dabblings of the late '50s. The live cover of "Tennessee Waltz" also sounds like unfinished business: he was on his way to Nashville, the story goes, when he stumbled on the New York folk scene in the '60s. There are belly laughs too, in the playful title track and "Because Of," both of which play up his reputation as a septuagenarian Casanova. "Because of a few songs wherein I wrote of their mystery," he confesses in the later, "women have been exceptionally kind to my old age." The languid, sighing atmospheres of "The Letter," "Undertow," "There For You" and "The Faith" are classic Cohen, on a razor's edge between tragedy and transcendence. The killer, though, is "On That Day." If less sage parties had taken as long to respond to the events of September 11, humanity itself might have been the winner.

Contributed by Ania.

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Winnipeg Sun

October 29, 2004

"Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery," theorizes Leonard Cohen, "women have been exceptionally kind to my old age." That investment continues to pay dividends on Cohen's alluring Dear Heather, his superior followup to 2001's comeback disc Ten New Songs. Produced with a trio of different female collaborators (including former backup vocalist Sharon Robinson and longtime engineer Leanne Ungar), these dozen new cuts find the 70-year-old vocalist in typically sombre form, ruminating on lost love and 9/11. The musical support for his grave, gravelly musings is markedly improved this time, though. Trading Ten New Songs' cheesey karaoke-bar synth-pop for understatedly pretty jazz, folk, blues and country arrangements, Cohen and a roster of living, breathing players invest these songs with a welcome earthiness, sincerity and depth. Smooth, seductive and soothing, Dear Heather should be enough to keep Cohen gratefully ensconced in the company of women well into his dotage.

Contributed by Parky.

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The Ottawa Citizen

October 30, 2004

* * * 1/2

Seventy last month, Leonard Cohen is as elusive, and accessible, as when we first heard his sad, monochromatic voice pondering the mystery of ladies and harbours almost 40 years ago.

Dear Heather is the Montreal native's first collection of new songs -- well, sort of new and sort of songs -- since 2001's memorably titled Ten New Songs.

Hypnotic like most Cohen albums, Dear Heather defies easy categorization, much as the woman in the title track, a repeated 21-word vignette of unfulfilled lust, remains forever beyond her admirer's reach: "Dear Heather Please walk by me again/ with a drink in your hand/ and your legs all white/ from the winter."

Delivered in an automaton fashion that belies the sexuality of the lyrics, the half-song, half-poem is like a film loop that always stops short of dramatic resolution.

And while initially frustrating because it goes nowhere, the cut is ultimately gratifying as the listener slides into Cohen's skin. Dear Heather becomes a lesson in not only surrendering Zen-like to the present (Cohen has practiced Buddhism for years) but in accepting our inability to sometimes do anything but observe what we hunger to possess. The inaccessible is suddenly rendered accessible.

Skip to Morning Glory and you're eavesdropping on an interior monologue as Cohen debates with himself whether the path he's on leads to transcendence. Mid-way through the track, the questioning becomes academic as Cohen's fretting is replaced by the angelic one-woman chorus of Anjani Thomas singing simply, "Oh, that morning glory," eternity -- or as big a slice as we're likely ever to get -- abruptly revealed in the everyday.

And so it goes over the course of Dear Heather's 13 tracks. Songs and spoken word pieces point one way, double back on themselves, abruptly head down a new path, leaving the unwary listener stranded in Cohen Land, where things are both more and less than what they seem.

And don't even think about trying to corral the album into a tidy summary of theme and genre. It doesn't sprawl -- has Cohen, austere and emotionally precise poet that he is, ever been guilty of sprawling in his dozen-odd albums? Well, maybe a little on 1977's Death of a Ladies' Man, but blame that on producer Phil Spector, who never met a silence he couldn't plug.

Dear Heather does, however, jump around. A splendid, soulful musical rendering of Lord Byron's Go No More A-Roving -- Cohen's rumbling baritone suggesting no regret that his tom-catting days are over -- opens the record. Strings and guitar accompany Cohen and Sharon Robinson, his producer and frequent duet and writing partner on The Letters, a sombre exercise in shifting perspectives on a long-dead relationship.

A twanging Jew's harp momentarily jars the contemplative 9/11 track On That Day. "What's that thing doing intruding in a song about such a monumental event?" you demand. Except that's the point: death levels all, making each of us a bit player in a village marching band.

A concert recording of the 1948 classic country tune Tennessee Waltz closes out the album (no stranger to the genre, Cohen played with a Montreal country band, the Buckskin Boys, in the mid '50s and leaned heavily on country for his 1984 release Various Positions). Drenched in steel guitar, Cohen's cover probably worked better live than on record.

Self-contained, these songs and the rest of Dear Heather never quite line up in the tidy queue we'd so dearly love to impose on existence. But Cohen sounds content with things as they are, so maybe there's something to his Buddhism.

Contributed by Parky.

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The Washington Post

October 27, 2004

If Glidden named a paint color after Leonard Cohen, no question it would be dark. Darker than mulberry, darker even than wine. But not black, a shiny, inert color; rather, something warm and mysterious, alternately mournful and romantic.

Not that the Cohen of Dear Heather, his 12th studio album since 1967, makes it easy to love him by starting his latest with "Go No More A-Roving." With words by Lord Byron and music by Lord Lenny, it's a high-school slow dance, complete with Motown-via-Ray Conniff background whoo-ers and a cool-as-winter-white-polyester tenor sax. Accept it as ironic, lest you go no more a-roving through the rest of this startlingly beautiful, characteristically challenging album.

He likes to mess with us, this Canadian icon. How else to explain "Morning Glory," a slightly ominous cocktail-bar tune that has him intoning faintly "No words this time? No words . . . Is it censorship? No, it's evaporation."

Cohen employs his speaking voice to great effect throughout the album. "Villanelle for Our Time," a poem by Frank Scott, is read over a dreamy, late-night piano melody, with Anjani Thomas chanting a background vocal as lulling as a warm bath. (It's no coincidence that this call to unity in the face of world disorder should follow "On That Day," Cohen and Thomas's moving, if occasionally peculiar, hymn about Sept. 11, 2001.) Cohen's spoken voice is most effective on "Because Of," an extraordinary piece of self-parody that paints him, drolly and also poignantly, as an aged roue. And on the title track, Cohen and Thomas read, and reread, a brief verse that sounds like the sort of old man's prayer that the British poet John Betjeman might have penned, over a strolling rhythm and a wobbly ballpark organ.

But the man can sing. Indeed, the 70-year-old pipes have developed not only gravitas, but a deeper sensitivity to melody. On "The Faith," based on a Quebecois folk song and featuring Garth Hudson on accordion, Cohen and Thomas blend voices in a rich and strange exploration of religion: "A cross on every hill / A star, a minaret / So many graves to fill." "Nightingale" sounds like traditional folk, perhaps rewritten by Yeats, but is yet another Cohen and Thomas composition, with a bittersweet melody and a lively melody. (And also the album's second Jew's-harp solo, so we don't get too complacent.) "Tennessee Waltz" swings way down into Dixie, with a twangy band (instead of Cohen's frequently used synthesized instruments) and a live audience; recorded in 1985, the faithful cover is an odd coda to this highly original collection.

Maybe it's Cohen's way of proving how much he has grown musically in the past 20 years. But the rest of Dear Heather is its own proof of his enduring and stubborn artistry.

Contributed by Bobbie.

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MSNBC Associated Press - Sound Bites

October 25, 2004

Aging crooner doesn't want to
be a rock star anymore

Leonard Cohen is an old man now, but the Canadian-born crooner once was cool.

Just being himself gave the world a new breed of ladies man -- a mix of dark suits, an I-don't-give-a-damn smirk, and an esoteric gaze focused on something no one else could see.

Unfortunately, his albums have become spoken-word duds lost in industry blur, and the old man's songs don't have the poetic poignancy they once did.

The irony is that Cohen at 70 knows this better than anybody. He's a hip anachronism that's been around long enough to see the fads come and go, and his new album Dear Heather isn't another attempt to redefine cool.

Instead it reveals with the stark honesty of a love letter, the reflections of a poet who reluctantly became a rock star long ago.

And in some ways, that honesty is the album's charm. Cohen, who changed identities with his 1988 release Death Of A Ladies Man, is now an aging gentlemen longing for memories but settled in the life he made.

"Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery, women have been exceptionally kind to my old age," Cohen speaks in "Because Of," his voice ravaged by cigarette smoke and no longer the majestic baritone it once was.

It seems Cohen doesn't want to be a rock star anymore. He's grown tired of couching his visions in song.

But he's still the wiseman with unanswerable questions. Not even he knows what he'll be next. "From better searching of the heart," Cohen sings, his voice rising, "we will rise to play a greater part."

Contributed by Dick and Marie.

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All Music Guide

October 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

There is an air of finality on Leonard Cohen's Dear Heather. Cohen who turned 70 in September of 2004; offers no air of personal mortality-thank God; may this elegant Canadian bard of the holy and profane live for ever-it nonetheless looks back, to teachers, lovers and friends, and celebrates life spent in the process of actually living it. The album's bookend tracks provide some evidence: Lord Byron's bittersweet "Go No More A-Roving" set to music and sung by Cohen and Robinson (and dedicated to Cohen's ailing mentor Irving Layton), and a beautifully crafted reading of country music's greatest lost love song, "Tennessee Waltz." Cohen's voice is even quieter, almost whispering, nearly sepulchral. The tone of the album is mellow, hushed, nocturnal. Its instrumentation is drenched in the beat nightclub atmospherics of 10 New Songs: trippy, skeletal R&B and pop, Casio keyboard-and-beat box propelled rhythm tracks are graced by brushed drums, spectral saxophones and vibes, an all but imperceptible acoustic guitar lilting, sleepily though it all. But this doesn't get it because it's so much more than this too. This said, Dear Heather is Cohen's most upbeat offering. Rather than focus on loss as an end, it looks upon experience as something to be accepted as a portal to wisdom and gratitude. Women permeate these songs both literally and metaphorically. Sharon Robinson who collaborated with Cohen last time is here, but so is Anjani Thomas. Leanne Ungar also lends production help. Cohen blatantly sums up his amorous life in "Because Of": "Because of a few songs/Wherein I spoke of their mystery/Women have been exceptionally kind to my old age/They make a secret place/ In their busy lives/ And they say, 'Look at me, Leonard/Look at me one last time.'" "The Letters" -- written with Robinson who sings in duet -- is a case in point. Reflecting on a past love who has been "reading them again/ The ones you didn't burn/You press them to your lips/My pages of concern…The wounded forms appear/The loss, the full extent/And simple kindness here/The solitude of strength." "On That Day" is a deeply compassionate meditation on the violence of September 11 where he asks the question: "Did you go crazy/Or did you report/On that day..." It is followed by the spoken poem, "Villanelle For Our Time" with words by Cohen's late professor Frank Scott that transforms these experiences into hope. "We rise to play a greater part/the lesser loyalties depart/And neither race nor creed remain/From bitter searching of the heart..." On "There For You," with Robinson, Cohen digs even deeper into the well telling an old lover that no matter the end result of their love, he was indeed there, had shown up, he was accountable and is grateful. Cohen quotes his own first book The Spice Box of Earth to pay tribute to late poet A.M. Klein. "Tennessee Waltz" is indeed a sad, sad song, but it is given balance in Cohen's elegant, cheerful delivery. If this indeed his final offering as a songwriter, it is a fine, decent and moving way to close this chapter of the book of his life.

Contributed by Tom S.

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The Metro (London)

October 2004

He's so easy Cohen

Leonard Cohen's 70th birthday was marked by, among other things, a tribute concerts from fans as varied and illustrious as Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave and The Handsome Family. Yet no one does Leonard Cohen better than Cohen himself, Dear Heather, his 11th studio album occupies a similar territoty to 2001's Ten New Songs but distils that album's tone of reconciliation into something purer and more exacting. Despite the barely there quality of the whispered strings, padded synths and drums, Cohen's fragmented vocals and the incorporeal beauty of Anjani Thomas's exceptional backing vocals (which lend tracks such as Morning Glory a radiance that borders on religious) Dear Heather hints at a transcendence that feel entirely perfect and complete.

Contributed by Paula (UK).

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Sunday London Independent

October 24, 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

The question, in 2004, is simple: which Leonard Cohen will we get? Will we find out what one of the most perceptive poets of the male condition has to say about old age, or will we merely have to endure the banal spiritual ramblings of a once-great man who went nuts and ran off to live in a Zen monastery? The answer, happily, is mainly the farmer. Sure, there are references to "the Messiah" and "sings against God", sure, there's an interpretation of Frank Scott's utopian "Villanelle", but Cohen's use of religious imagery has always been metaphorical rather than literal, and indeed "The Faith" seems to be a j'accuse to the major creeds ("A cross on every hill / A star, a minaret / So many graves to fill / O love, aren't you tired yet?"). Dear Heather is a languid affair, taking in smoky jazz, dusty country and creamy soul, and sometimes Cohen seems barely awake, absent-mindedly talking along with the gospel backing singers as though it's somebody else's record, but as a lyricist he's no slouch. The autobiographical "Because Of" displays a remarkable level of self-knowledge, and "The Letters" is classic Cohen. The poignancy of "On That Day", a song about "the day they wounded New York", is undermined somewhat by a silly Jew's harp noise, but that voice could recite a Kathy bloody Lette novel and still move you.

Contributed by Dick.

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October 25, 2004

It's tempting to draw parallels between the 1990s poetry of the late Allen Ginsberg with Leonard Cohen's music over the past three years. Late in his life, Ginsberg's 1990s poetry was still as impassioned and defiant as ever, but there was a simplicity creeping in, as he started to employ more whimsical, simpler structures into his work (in some cases, nursery rhyme rhythms), his words much more direct than they'd ever been, and near the end of his life, when asked for advice for young people, the first thing he always said was, "Be nice to your mother." Cohen, a devout Buddhist as Ginsberg was, turned 70 this past September, and has begun to sound just as simple and direct in his music. He readily admits that the depression he felt in the past is now gone, and despite the tough times the world is going through right now, he couldn't be happier. Gone is that prophet of doom/ladies' man that enthralled and seduced generations; in his place, a great singer/songwriter/poet looking back on life, while at the same time, possessing the good humor of an eccentric Zen monk. Artistically speaking, Cohen has descended his Tower of Song, opting instead for the cozy confines of a humble hermitage.

Still, and this is where Cohen's brilliance comes in, his new music keeps getting more and more bold. After 36 years of songwriting (including eleven studio albums), and despite taking his own sweet time between albums, Cohen continues to write and record with a startling consistency, and Dear Heather, his most complex and adventurous record to date, is no exception. He addresses old friends and mentors, he reminisces about the ladies in his life, he muses about the effects of 9/11, and musically, he strips down the arrangements to their most basic forms, as you hear touches of traditional folk (he even plays a Jew's harp at one point), jazz, and his trademark balladry.

Cohen is obviously returning to his poetic past on the record, something you instantly hear on "Go No More A-Roving", a musical adaptation of the Lord Byron poem of the same name. He also dedicates three songs to three notable Montreal writers; the aforementioned song to Irving Layton, "To a Teacher" to the late A.M. Klein (the lyrics lifted from Cohen's 1961 book The Spice-Box of the Earth), and "Villanelle For Our Time", a haunting performance of a poem by Cohen's McGill University professor F. R. Scott, featuring a somber reading by Cohen, his voice deeper and more sonorous than ever. "Morning Glory" evokes the Beat jazz poetry of the late 1950s, as Cohen describes the transcendent feeling of seeing the sun rise: "No words this time...Is it censorship?" Cohen asks, "No, it's evaporation."

Cohen's 1977 album might have been called Death of a Ladies' Man, but at his age, the fire still obviously burns. On the striking "Because Of", he says of all the women who have been in his life, "They become naked/ In their different ways/ And they say,/ 'Look at me, Leonard/ Look at me one last time,'" adding facetiously at the end, "Then they bend over the bed/ And cover me up/ Like a baby that is shivering." "The Letters" is a tale of love that goes unreciprocated until it's too late ("I gave you my address/ Your story was so long/ The plot was so intense/ It took you years to cross/ The lines of self-defense"), while "There For You" is one of Cohen's best love songs in years, and one of his darkest, as the overall tone is regretful, and even bitter ("I walk the streets/ Like I used to do/ And I freeze with fear/ But I'm there for you").

After the album's midway point, things get interesting, and even a bit surreal. "Dear Heather" is another love song, with simple, beautiful, instantly memorable lyrics that Cohen is such a master at ("Dear Heather/ Please walk by me again/ With a drink in your hand/ And your legs all white/ From the winter"), but it's recited in an almost trancelike state, over a schmaltzy organ/trumpet arrangement, as the reading sounding both obsessive and whimsical the more it's repeated, and what begins as a sultry come-on, in the end, comes off as a bizarre, dryly humorous, surrealist experiment. After taking on an avant-garde sound on the title track, the album takes a sharp turn in the opposite direction with the cheerful, lilting, traditional folk arrangement of "Nightingale", and the beautiful, elegiac "The Faith". And if that weren't enough, the album ends with a live 1985 recording of a cover of the country/western standard "Tennessee Waltz".

Completely fascinating from beginning to end, Dear Heather rivals Cohen's classics from over a decade ago, 1998's I'm Your Man and 1992's The Future, and despite the wide variety of musical styles on the record, there's a remarkable consistency to his compositions. Cohen's ubiquitous background singers are there, as always (his partner Anjani Thomas sings on eight of the record's twelve tracks), and there's still the slick production, but unlike past albums, it's not overly polished, and there's even the odd saxophone solo, which Cohen continues to shamelessly employ, bucking all trends. The sly nihilism of "Everybody Knows" and "The Future", and the passion of "Ain't No Cure For Love" and "Closing Time" have been replaced by more contemplative, relaxed musings; like Ginsberg, Cohen keeps things simple, and cuts right to the chase in his lyrics. On the 9/11 song "On That Day", Cohen states simply, "Did you go crazy/ Or did you report/ On that day/ They wounded New York," the word "report" meaning, "To present oneself: report for duty." Did you change the way you lived your life after that grim wake-up call, are you getting the most out of life? Leonard Cohen certainly is, and as a result, his music is the most vibrant it's been in a dozen years. We should all be so cool when we're septuagenarians.

Dear Heather is #71 on Popmatters' Best Music of 2004 list:

"Like a sage descending from the mountaintop (in this case, literally, given his recent years in a Zen monastery), the 70-year-old Cohen proves that his autumn years fit him quite well, and that his inner satyr still has a few springs and summers left. Still possessed of a sepulchral voice that makes every utterance sound like a profound meditation, Cohen continues to plumb the depths of his favorite subjects: the cruel jokes of age, the Mystery of women, romance as a spiritual endeavor, the need for the artist's soul in everyone to rage against the corruptions of the world. Cohen's newfound balance in portraying these things, though, is Dear Heather's greatest strength, and when Cohen's time finally comes to shuffle off his mortal coil, you get the sense that he'll steal a few extra hours playfully discussing everything he's seen and done with an utterly charmed Reaper." -- Andrew Gilstrap

Contributed by Tom S.

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The Observer - UK

October 24, 2004

There's no such thing as a bad Leonard Cohen album; any self-respecting subterranean will tell you that. From his 1967 debut they've all been charmers - made you laugh when you should cry (or vice versa) reflecting upon the state of the world, and in particular what happens when men and women rub up against one another, with wry charm.

There are the landmark records, however; many hailed the late entry I'm Your Man in 1988 - for Cohen's powers of seduction only increased as the years rolled on and his voice deepened.

The album with which Cohen greets his eighth decade (he is now 70) will be equally well, if not better, received. For, where 2001's effort never really emerged from a kind of simmering, sepulchral gloom, the songs all bathed in shadow, here there is great variety of tone and pace, a sunnier, brighter quality to the music (partly created by an increase in the female backing-vocal quotient and some lovely performances by Anjani Thomas and Leanne Ungar). There's an opening-out of subject matter (Cohen manages to treat 9/11 subtly in the understated, piano-backed 'On That Day'; includes an ambivalent dedication to a dead teacher elsewhere), great variety in the lyrics chosen.

For a start, there are the arrangements of other people's poems. The album kicks off with a version of Byron's 'Go No More a-Roving'. This is not in itself a radical departure - Cohen has even translated Lorca in search of a song. But where the version we all know is brooding and passionate, his recasting is almost a happy affair, very much in the major key, with cheesy alto sax courtesy of Bob Sheppard. Cohen swaps vocals with long-term collaborator and producer Sharon Robinson, and the two come together for a restatement of the refrain, the whole acquiring an incantatory air; and that quality surfaces again for the jazzy setting of Frank Scott's 'Villanelle for Our Time'. In fact, there's a lot of it about. This may be partly to do with Cohen's years of monkhood. It's also, of course, about the fact that he is older, his voice now incredibly deep. Rarely does he break into actual melody; 'Morning Glory' takes the form of a spoken dialogue between two gruff Cohens, before lush female vocals break in and create a kind of musical sunrise.

This repetitive, chanting quality also arises from lyrics that are short, perhaps mere jottings. The title track is only five lines long, a lecherous yearning for young flesh where Cohen is joined in unison vocals by Anjani Thomas; they almost sound like robots over a Bontempi organ backing.

Alongside the weirdness, though, are some very strong songs, classic Cohen. I particularly like the two-way lament of 'The Letters'; and 'Nightingale' has some fantastic close harmony singing. The record finishes with a tarted-up live rendition of Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King's country classic 'Tennessee Waltz' from 1985, its sense of loss chiming in some ways with the Byron of the beginning.

If this is Cohen's last album - and I do hope it isn't - it's a great note on which to finish. There's no such thing as a bad Leonard Cohen album, but this one is very good indeed.

- To order Dear Heather for £13.99 with free UK p&p, call the Observer Music Service on 0870 836 0713

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Contributed by Dick.

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Edmonton Sun

October 24, 2004

* * * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

My dear old dad, God rest his soul, used to say that as a poet, Leonard Cohen makes a great songwriter. I believe his exact words were, "Leonard Cohen went into music because he couldn't make it as a poet."

Dad was an English prof who studied poetry, so I assume he knew what he was talking about.

I'm not so sure anymore. Bob Dylan gets nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature and Leonard Cohen can't be far behind. Len's latest album adds cement to the idea that song lyrics are in fact poetry - in this case, mournful, vivid sonnets of bittersweet romance and joyful doom, almost every line an emotional dagger, every dirge here inviting deep thought. That Len surrounds his desiccated voice with the sweetest sounds - female backup singers, angelic choirs, string sections, quaint and quirky arrangements - just throws his wise pronouncements into sharper relief.

Verily, heed the voice of Death himself! He speaketh the truth!

Cohen also writes what he knows - and by now, he certainly knows himself. The deft Because of sums it up: "Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery, women have been exceptionally kind to my old age."

Also jumping out is the old time gospel ballad, On That Day, Len's 9/11 song, a little late, but what the hell: "Some people say it's what we deserve for sins against God, for crimes in the world. I wouldn't know. I'm just holding the fort since that day they wounded New York." Cue the ploing of the Jew's harp. Yes, Jew's harp. Makes you think, doesn't it? To lend credence to this lyrics-as-poetry idea, Len has also set music to a poem by Lord Byron. Then he ends the album with a live version of Tennessee Waltz.

It all fits.

Contributed by Dick.

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Independent UK

22 October 2004

* * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

If there were ever any lingering doubt that, contrary to the widespread perception of him as some kind of suicidally miserable poet, Leonard Cohen is actually one of the funniest men in music, it should finally be dispelled by "Because Of", the second track on this latest collection of observations from the twilight of life.

Like several songs on Dear Heather, it concerns the inevitable waning of libidinal desire, an entirely appropriate consideration for a ladies' man on the unfortunate side of 70. "Because of a few songs wherein I spoke of their mystery," he muses, "women have been exceptionally kind to my old age/ They make a secret place in their busy lives, and they take me there/ They become naked in their different ways/ And they say, 'Look at me, Leonard/ Look at me one last time'/ Then they bend over the bed/ And cover me up like a baby that is shivering." Did I say funny? Make that funny and moving at the same time, a trick he's been pulling off for several decades.

Like 2001's Ten New Songs, this album features Cohen working closely with his current team of "angels", producer/engineer Leanne Ungar, and singers Sharon Robinson and Anjani Thomas, whose soothing, siren tones take the lead on several songs, offering refreshment for his baritone murmur. It sounds much less homogeneous than Ten New Songs, however, despite the songs' shared palette of double bass, faltering keyboards, breathy sax and string pads. This is partly to do with fractured, semi-spoken oddities such as "Morning Glory" and "Dear Heather" itself, the latter finding Cohen so dumbstruck by a passing girl with "your legs all white from the winter" that he's eventually reduced first to repeating the line over and over, then to just spelling it out, letter by letter. It might also have something to do with the inclusion of "On That Day", a brief song about "that day they wounded New York", which is the kind of small-scale tribute that shames the pompous blather of such as Alan Jackson and Toby Keith.

The closest that Dear Heather comes to the previous album's smooth sensuosity are "There For You", a slinky expression of selfless devotion, and "Go No More A-Roving", a rumination on the ebbing of desire. Elsewhere, the concluding live rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" is supported by the earlier "Nightingale", a simple number which one can easily imagine being covered by Dolly Parton. The centrepiece of the album, however, is the lengthy spoken piece "Villanelle for Our Time", an aphoristic statement of moral certitude in which Cohen expresses his hope that mankind might stop "steering by the venal chart that tricks the mass for private gain". Some hope - but then again, some hope.

Contributed by Jarkko.

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November 2004

* * * *

If you were walking through one of the shabbier blocks in San Francisco last week, you might have seen a man sitting on the kerb singings a Leonard Cohen song. Not very well -- the pair of dentures upturned in a puddle of puke wouldn't have helped -- though enough to identify it as Famous Blue Raincoat, Cohen's late-night epistolary masterpiece.

Half a lifetime on, Cohen is still writing letters. Some, like the title track, are telegrammatically brief. Others are longer, like The Letters, an ongoing correspondence (a duet with Sharon Robinson, Cohen's collaborator on 2001's Ten New Songs). And if none feel like they were composed at four in the morning (as was Raincoat), it could be because nowadays that's Cohen's favourite hour to record instead -- in his workshop in his Los Angeles garden, after the traffic stops and before the birds start to sing. A decade ago, when he was a mere lad of 60, Cohen said he liked the idea of old men going off to their workshops. Judging by the speed (by Cohen's standards) with which this second post-monastery album has appeared it seems he's taken to doing it himself.

Dear Heather is not a Songs Of Love And Hate; even the 9/11 song (On That Day) is, if anything, reflective and puzzled. Vocally it's certainly one of his most hushed and muted albums, as if his voice, on its plummet down the bass scale into dark, nicotine-stained depths, decided to take the volume control along with it. Or perhaps he was just too courteous to wake the neighbours.

Sometimes his voice is barely there. A whisper on Because Of; a breath in The Letters; a shadow of itself in Morning Glory; murmuring close to the microphone, like a Gainsbourgian chanteur; or bassing in once in a while, like A.P. Carter, while the women (Robinson and Anjani Thomas) do all the work. Much of the time he abandons all pretence at singing and speaks the words over a female backdrop (Because Of) or jazz (Villanelle For Our Time; To A Teacher). The latter harks back to the poetry readings he'd do at jazz clubs in Montreal in '50s/early '60s, and two songs here are dedicated to poets from that place and time (Irving Layton and A.M. Klein). There's more looking back in The Faith, based on a Quebecan folk song, and the cover of Tennessee Waltz. Cohen, whose first band was a country band, takes the liberty of adding a fine, final verse.

Lyrically it's one of Cohen's least ambiguous albums -- though of course Cohen might have reached such a level of Zen mastery that the lack of ambivalence is a refined ambiguity. Musically it's melodic and memorable. Beguiling.

Contributed by Robert B. and Dick.

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October 2004

Masterful exposition on spiritual and
erotic longing from the divine Len

* * * * * (5 Stars - Highest Rating)

It seems like a good few lifetimes have passed since Paul Weller famously dismissed the songs of Leonard Cohen as "music to slash your wrists to". That was back in 1984, the same year that Cohen's Various Positions album (one of his most beauteous) went unreleased in the States, when its creator's stock had fallen as low as it could possibly go, when Cohen was so hopelessly unfashionable that Weller's famous, knee-jerk remark could pass by uncontested. Two decades on the Laughing Len is just about the coolest man on the planet. A poet, a singer, a part-time monk and a cocksman extraordinaire, he's universally regarded as the ultimate bohemian.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when Cohen became hip again. Perhaps with 1988's I'm Your Man, when he updated his trademark sound with toytown synths and, nudging his gallows humour to the fore, reminded us that he was indeed the Buster Keaton of despair. Or with 1991's more expansive The Future, where he dug downwards and outwards to expose the spiritual and cultural vacancy of the times. Though the '90s, as he disappeared from view, holed up in a Californian mountain-top abbey, his silence was filled by the sound of others (Bono, Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave and all) ringing his praises from a heavily indebted place up on high.

Dear Heather remains more or less faithful to the template of his 2001 album Ten New Songs. A loungey soundscape of ghostly synths, gently palpitating beat-box, almost imperceptible guitar, notional sax and soft, heavenly female voice (Sharon Robinson now sharing shifts with Anjani Thomas) giving permanent fixity to Cohen's parched vocal. But there's something more here. Something completed. The vocal sounds more sepulchral than ever. And the words that vocal carries, they sound very final this time. As though Cohen intends this latest batch of songs about spiritual yearning, erotic longing and the limits of intimacy to be his last word on the subjects.

He's conjured the best of his art by scraping songs from his heart. And the heart is scraped so raw this time around that you can't help wondering whether the spectre of mortality has become the most regular muse.

As ever, these are mostly songs about love, songs about women. "Go No More A-Roving", co-written by Lord Byron no less, concedes that the flesh is weak but hints that the spirit might yet overcome and there could still be fireworks at bedtime. "Because Of" humbly admits the dying of the light even as Cohen imagines a beautiful woman bent naked over a bed. On the imperiously jaunt title track, he fantasises about being so enthralled by a woman's face that he loses the ability to spell words out. Mightiest of all is The Faith, based on a Québécois folk song, where his voice dovetails with that of Thomas in an emotion-swarming hymn to sexual faith and the fleeting beauty of it all. Dear Heather is Cohen's highest tide yet, his most exquisite marriage of song and poetry and ambiguous grace. Magic is right here.

Contributed by Kelley and Dick.

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October 11, 2004


So how did you enjoy turning 70? I noticed that your birthday, Sept. 21, was the eve of the autumn equinox. It was an unusually warm night in Toronto. As the tail end of summer slipped away, I biked down to a bar that was hosting a tribute in your honour -- as you know, these events were mushrooming all over the world, in towns like Edmonton, Copenhagen and some place in Australia called Toowoomba. We were a large crowd packed into a small room. The faithful included a woman who shares your birthday, and claims to have shared your bed many years ago in Greece. A sweet old lady who drove up from Niagara Falls looked a little lost. She said, "I thought there would be poetry readings." Instead, a band played the album I'm Your Man, with a different singer stepping up to tackle each cut. One after the other, like valiant suitors attempting to draw the sword from the stone, they tried to do you justice. Most tried too hard. But a young chanteuse called Lily Frost crooned one of your early songs, Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye. She was almost cooler than thou, Leonard. Immobile in Chinese silk, her dark hair in a retro coif, she had a loungy voice like Julie London, and cut the tempo of the lyrics in half, making young Leonard sound like old Leonard. You would have liked her.

During our first interview, for the release of The Future in 1992, I'll always remember you telling me there's no rhyme for orange -- "Some people say it's 'door hinge,' but that's not right." (I was later dismayed to find you said this to others, but I forgave you: doing media is a promiscuous business.) We met again for the release of Ten New Songs in 2001, sat in your sweltering house in Montreal during an August heat wave. Driving down from a lake, I'd brought raspberries from a roadside stall, which you received with reverence. Later I visited your home in Los Angeles, where you served me lentil soup and countless tiny glasses of red wine. And with your lovely partner, Anjani Thomas, you introduced me to an Irish drinking song about a guy who gave away his wife.

When I asked if you'd do an interview for your new album, Dear Heather (out on Oct. 26), you suggested we get together and talk off the record about doing interviews. Was this a new approach to the art of promotion? I drove down to your house in Montreal, with more raspberries, which you swore were the finest you'd ever laid eyes on. We sat at a table by an open window as people walked by on the sidewalk. Over wine and Indian takeout, you told me you didn't want to promote Dear Heather. You said it's unlike anything you've done, it speaks for itself, and that there's nothing more to add. You also confessed that, years after your depression mysteriously lifted, you're enjoying life more than ever. To go on about that in a world ravaged by unspeakable misery just didn't sit well with you. Journalists like me would inevitably quiz you about Bush and the war, and the business of your libido turning 70. And they'd all ask, "Who's Heather?"

You'll recall that I tried to change your mind. I dealt the Canada card, reminding you that, with Trudeau gone, you're the last cool international icon among your generation of Canadians -- someone we'll forever associate with a Canada when everything seemed possible, when a bohemian intellectual could be prime minister and a Montreal poet could be world famous. By "doing publicity," you wouldn't just be promoting a record, you'd be breathing a Zen glow of warmth and wisdom into the faint embers of this thing called Canadian culture. Or something like that.

Anyway, it was a beautiful evening. But as the weeks passed, you kept your resolve to decline interviews. Hence this letter. If you won't talk about Dear Heather, I will.

You're right, it is a departure, one that finds you rappelling from the tower of song to kneel at the altar of poetry. Even more hushed and meditative than Ten New Songs, it's an elegiac album, one that shows you reconnecting with your poetic roots. The opening track, Go No More A-Roving, is a Byron poem set to music -- a lover's farewell to tomcatting through the moonlit night because "the heart must pause to breathe / And love itself have rest." It's dedicated to your ailing mentor, Irving Layton -- one of a Montreal triumvirate of poets you've honoured on the album. To a Teacher is dedicated to A.M. Klein (1909-1972), with lyrics plucked from your own 1961 book, The Spice-Box of the Earth. And with Villanelle for Our Time, you recite some inspirational verse penned by your former McGill professor F.R. Scott -- "From bitter searching of the heart. . . we rise to play a greater part."

If you were being interviewed -- but you're not -- the song that a journalist would pounce on is Because of, a wry, self-deprecating ode. If you don't mind, I'll quote it in full; otherwise it would be like retelling a joke and omitting the punchline:

Because of a few songs
Wherein I spoke of their mystery,
Women have been
Exceptionally kind
to my old age.
They make a secret place
In their busy lives
And they take me there.
They become naked
In their different ways
and they say,
"Look at me, Leonard
Look at me one last time."
Then they bend over the bed
And cover me up
Like a baby that is shivering.

Nothing is quite so tender as the ironic infancy of old age. Your words are cradled in the spare plucking of a thumb piano, and swathed in Anjani's layered vocals -- a vapour trail that soars into the foreground with that siren chorus, "Look at me, Leonard." It sounds like an angelic choir of every girl you've ever loved. Your generosity here is palpable. The two women on the album -- Anjani Thomas and Sharon Robinson (your collaborator on Ten New Songs) -- toured with you as backup singers in the '80s. Now they work with you side by side, sharing lead vocals and several songwriting credits.

Your own voice on the album is like heavy parchment, with a vellum whisper of vibrato. With every record you seem to lower your centre of vocal gravity, as if engaged in some kind of sonar parsing of the depths. I know you work on a computer screen, but in your timbre one can feel the weight of words on paper, what you like to call the "blackened pages." Dear Heather is full of letters, including one called The Letters, a melancholy tale of unrequited correspondence that finds its mark years after it's sent -- "you press them to your lips / My pages of concern." Then there's the title song, a minimalist plea to the enigmatic Heather. You ask her to walk by you again, her "legs all white from the winter." And you repeat the same five lines over and over, until you start to spell out the words . . . letter by letter.

In the slow waltz of Undertow, riding the gentle swell of a saxophone, you sing of "a chill in my soul / And my heart the shape / Of a begging bowl." And in the hypnotic There For You, you unwind a skein of bitter romance: "I see my life / In full review / It was never me / It was always you." There's enough lament for lost love on Dear Heather that it makes me wonder if it's a breakup album. But in a sense, they're all breakup albums, aren't they? Whether you take us to the end of love, or the end of time, you like to dwell on what you once called "the crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." Illumination and Armageddon joined at the hip.

Speaking of which, you devote one number, On That Day, directly to Sept. 11 -- "that day they wounded New York." You acknowledge that "Some people say / It's what we deserve / For sins against g-d / For crimes in the world. . . Our women unveiled / Our slaves and our gold." Then you offer a non-partisan shrug worthy of Trudeau, saying "I wouldn't know / I'm just holding the fort." There's a sense of campfire corn to this modest requiem, as you frame the lyrics with the simple twang of a Jew's harp. I'm reminded of your 1992 anthem Democracy -- again you spelled out a stubborn centrism of the hearth: "I'm neither left or right / I'm just staying home tonight / getting lost in that hopeless little screen."

Can't say I blame you. Dear Heather sounds like the older, wiser music of a man who's given up a-roving. Yet this is your most avant-garde album, riddled with playful deconstruction. In the languid meditation of Morning Glory, words like "censorship" and "evaporation" drift, disembodied, through pools of beatnik jazz. But you also offer a couple of bucolic folk songs, Nightingale and The Faith -- lilting airs that sound so traditional it's hard to believe you wrote them.

In case you haven't noticed by now, Leonard, this is not a review; it's a fan letter. And why not? You're 70, and you're still out there, living up to your mentors, to Layton and Klein and Scott. You become more blithely immune to the mainstream with each passing year. Yet you stay in the game. You're preparing a new collection of poetry, Book of Longing. Your music still makes its way into the world (Wim Wenders used two of your songs to deliver the epiphany at the end of his new film, Land of Plenty.) Famous yet strangely immune to celebrity, you spent years as a monk on Mount Baldy in California. Then, in 1999, you came down from the mountain, announcing you were "back on Boogie Street." Lately you've been rediscovering Montreal. You say you've lost count of the number of times you've sat at your desk and sketched the gazebo in the park outside your window. As for the songs, you get by with fewer and fewer brush strokes, and feel no need to explain them.

But still, I want to know. Who's Heather?

Dear Heather, to be released on Oct. 26 by Sony Music Canada, is Cohen's 14th album. The CD's cover art was drawn by Cohen himself

Contributed by Kelley.

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August 19, 2004

By Leon Wieseltier

"It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house". Those are the mysterious words, from the Book of Leviticus, that the owner of a house addresses to a priest when he notices a strange lesion on his dwelling, and seeks relief from the impurity that is denoted by this wound to his walls. What is so striking about this voice, what struck the commentators about it, is its tentativeness, its imprecision, its uncertainty. It is rare in Scripture that somebody does not know for sure. But this man does not report a plague in his house, he reports his impression of a plague in his house. Why? Perhaps his fear has rattled his confidence in his mind. But another explanation (always another explanation!) was given. The point of this locution, so unfamiliar in the biblical universe but so familiar in the human universe, is, in the words of an ancient rabbi, to "teach your tongue to say: 'I do not know'".

Here endeth the midrash for Dear Heather. But it is precisely from such a tongue that this reflective and lovely and companionable record has fallen. For poets, for artists, for thinkers, there is no more perilous illusion than the illusion of the last word. There is no such thing as the last word, because in another moment the light will change, the page will turn, the caress will end, the ice will melt, the shadow will pass, the glass will break, the news will arrive - the world will no longer look as it did, the world will no longer be what it was, when you wrote or spoke or sang the words that were designed to capture it, and to fix it, and to settle the matter of its meaning once and for all. The ideal of the last word represents only a desire to be released from the variety and the mutability of life, to bring experience and expression to an end. Behind the grandiosity of the last word, the big statement, the final image, the ultimate conclusion - behind all these conceits and coercions lies a sorry exhaustion and a specious authority.

Dear Heather is a retort to such exhaustion and a rejection of such authority. Its achievement is owed to the reduction of its scale. Cohen has always been fascinated by his own smallness: he does not rebel against it so much as he rebels within it. His art has been a long and invigorating endeavor to coax significance out of insignificance. He never introduces anything large or anything lasting except wryly, as if to say: here is what he who does not know knows. And Dear Heather is a perfect document of this brilliant humility. Here the form has caught up with the philosophy. The record is a notebook, a scrapbook, a sketchbook, a miscellany of ideas and moods and observations and diversions -- the definitive declaration of Cohen's glad loss of interest in the definitive. The temper here is provisional, digressive, incomplete, quiet, experimental, generous, artisanal. Dear Heather is located in the middle of the work and in the middle of the world. Cohen sings, but not always; sometimes he lets others sing (especially Anjani Thomas, in whose preternaturally gorgeous voice Cohen has found the most angelic of all his "angels"), and sometimes he speaks, his own words or the words of others. He wishes to give what he loves a hearing. Even in sadness, he comes to praise.

The record revels in its own lack of monumentality. No emotions are exempted from its insistence upon the reality, and the beauty, of the ordinary. Consider "On That Day", Cohen's contribution to the mourning for September 11, 2001. On the occasion of "the day they wounded New York", he has written a ditty. It is all of two minutes long, and it includes the unplangent twanging of a Jew's harp. But there is no blasphemy in this simplicity. Not at all. The song is deeply affecting because of its refusal of the temptation of magnitude, and also because of its argument that one may respond to evil with madness or with service. Compare this unlikely commemoration to the bombastic arena-rock threnodies that were provoked by the catastrophe in New York and you will have a lesson in grief's integrity. Or consider "Dear Heather", the wickedly amusing title track. Here it is not sorrow that is translated into the idiom of the actual, it is desire. A woman walks by a man and undoes him so completely that he must teach himself again to spell. Cohen is tickled by the banality of his own lust. Where anguish once was there now is silliness. The longing persists, but the slavery is over. And the evidence of inner freedom is everywhere in Dear Heather. It is a window upon the heart of an uncommonly interesting and uncommonly mortal man, a man with the stomach for transience.

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August 4, 2004

By Pico Iyer

Rio de Janeiro

"It's a leave-taking, with light," I found myself saying, to my own surprise, the first time I listened to "Dear Heather." I was sitting in a small cottage in central Los Angeles, looking out on a sunlit garden, flowers, a constant trickle of water from a fountain where birds splashed (the freeway nearby seeming a million miles away), and what I was hearing might have been a transcription of the scene around me. In the past, especially on his last album, "Ten New Songs," Leonard Cohen often seemed to push his songs towards darkness and silence, the place where everything gives out. Indeed, the power of that record seemed to me to lie partly in its singleness, its unity of tone, the songs flowing one into the other with a grave, contained intensity. This was the beauty of a small cabin beside a Zen meditation-hall high up in the mountains.

The new record, for me, is the beauty of returning to the world again, celebrating its beauties, even though they will pass. In one of his early songs about the monastic pull, Cohen wrote of how "night comes in," as he goes into the dark to court Our Lady of Solitude; here I feel as if night is receding, as light comes in. The first surprise of the record is how various and almost floral are its musical arrangements, the singer hopping from style to style like a bee buzzing amidst the flowers. The first time I heard the record I imagined a series of objects lined up on a table, all precisely rounded, like brightly colored balls, entire in themselves and lucid, but not pointing to anything beyond themselves. Offerings for a Sunday morning, you could say, at home in the sun.

Cohen has suffered more than almost any songwriter or poet alive from assumptions about his life, or at least that shadow-life that is his legend; people seize on the songs with women in them, or using his central (often metaphorical) word "naked," and miss the point often. The second song here teases us with the Cohen we expect--women, naked, crying "Look at me, Leonard." The fact he uses his own name, again and again, is almost a way of stressing that he's talking about the figure who moves through the world, in rumors, in gossip columns, in listener projections. With that second song, Leonard departs.

The others startle with their sense of completeness--or, put another way, with their lack of obvious gravitas, their freedom from obvious depth. They're transparent: notebook entries, or a series of recipes hung up on a refrigerator door. When you expect Cohen to go deeper into a song, to give us a new verse, a different turn, as he's always done before, he steps back, gives us the same verse again. When you expect him to surprise us, as he's always done, with an unexpected rhyme, he surprises us by giving us just the word we expect. And often the words more or less dissolve, as the singer experiments with chant, or incantation, the place where music becomes something more than music, closer to prayer or ritual recitation. "And your legs white from the winter."

And all the while, his voice, which had already begun to recede from view in "Ten New Songs," where Sharon Robinson, his conspirator and co-producer, led on many tracks, fades further and further away from us, until Robinson and Anjani Thomas take over, and replace his dark sonorities with their more light-filled decorations. A ceremony of farewell, in a way.

The first time I listened to this record, I couldn't help but wonder what listeners would make of it. Many of his fans look for long, gnarled poems from Leonard Cohen, for parables and theological mutterings; they're not ready for songs as straightforward, and full of fresh air, as a 16th century lyric. He's giving us here, essentially, jottings, moments, the things he might collect for a letter to a friend. It's no coincidence, I'm sure--things are precise on Leonard Cohen albums--that, in the C.D. brochure, there are sketches all over the place, simple, whimsical, unfancy, and on many pages the drawings drown out the words.

Anyone who writes knows that transparency is at least as hard to catch as mystery. Mystery means taking on all that is beyond the self (or inside the self); transparency means recording all that is outside the self, and independent of it. Usually, when we describe something, we cloud it over with our thoughts, our projections, our hopes for it, our confusions. Just to give the thing as it is is often the hardest task of all, which is why we admire a Cezanne still life, or a small red wheelbarrow in a William Carlos Williams poem.

It's also the easiest thing to underestimate, or look past. I can imagine a music critic rejoicing in the way this record--quite literally, a record of a life, a day--opens up the palette to admit new colors; but the exegete will be confounded by the fact that the words just stand there, giving up nothing but themselves. There's no spin on them, no gloss. Cohen has traditionally been the voice of striving, of conflict and seeking; here he becomes something harder for us to accept, a voice of contentment. It's as if he's withdrawn his self from things in order to say, "This is what they are. They have no need of me"

When I was trying to grasp this record, elusive precisely because it sits in full view, illuminated, less hidden or in shadow than is usual with Leonard Cohen, I thought of the poems of the Japanese among whom I live. A plover. A temple-bell. A marigold. Observation of the world for them becomes observation of a ritual, even of a religion. Indeed, it is from their straight-on renditions of the world that Pound got his imagism, from which William Carlos Williams took his wheelbarrow. The Zen discipline tells us to look at what's in front of us, and what's beneath our feet. No need to search for enlightenment or beauty or analytic wisdom, no need to seek out meaning or depth. It's all right there, in front of our eyes.

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