An all-star roster of singers, songwriters, rockers, pop singers and jazz greats have come together for the Blue Note Leonard Cohen covers album Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen. The 12-track album due out on Oct. 14 will feature original takes on some of the late songwriter’s most beloved tunes from the likes of Iggy Pop, Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel, Mavis Staples, David Gray, Sarah McLachlan and James Taylor, whose hushed version of Cohen’s 1984 track “Coming Back to You” is out now.
“When Larry Klein invited me to participate in a Leonard Cohen tribute album, I accepted immediately,” said Taylor in a statement in reference to the album’s producer. “Both because Larry is a great producer of excellent recordings and a good friend, and because, like almost everyone in my generation, I venerate Leonard Cohen. As soon as I began seeking out my own musical preferences, Cohen’s songs were among my few favorites and had a major influence on my own progression as a songwriter. For the project, I was drawn to a relatively obscure piece that was new to me, ‘Coming Back To You.’ Larry opted to cut the song in Cohen’s original key, which was certainly at the bottom of my own range. But somehow moving me out of my comfort zone helped me find my own approach to the song. Like so much of Leonard Cohen’s writing, this lyric resonates deeply with his forlorn and hopeless take on the bleak landscape of love and attachment. So, breathe a deep sigh and, drink up…”
Grammy-winner Klein, a longtime friend of Cohen’s, explained the genesis of the project in the album announcement released on Thursday (July 28).“Leonard Cohen had been a friend since 1982 or so, and in the last 15 years of his life, he became a close friend,” said Klein. “He was possibly the wisest and funniest friend that I had, and someone that I enjoyed, immensely, in every way. After he passed away, I found myself frequently covering his songs with other artists that I was working with. One reason, of course, is that the songs are so good—in a certain way, Leonard is the best pop songwriter ever—but the other reason was that it helped keep him in the air around me.”
Klein assembled a killer band of jazz-based musicians to back up the all-star roster, including acclaimed guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Nate Smith, with producer Greg Leisz sitting in on pedal steel guitar and Larry Goldings playing the organ. McLachlan takes on Cohen’s most beloved, oft-covered track, the haunting meditation “Hallelujah,” which, like Taylor’s cover, comes from 1984’s beloved Various Positions album. Pop, meanwhile, holds down the other end of the career spectrum with his take on the coal-black title track to Cohen’s final album, “You Want It Darker.”
The songs cover the waterfront of contemplative crooner Cohen’s romantically fraught tone poems about love, death and everything in between, reaching all the way back to the singer’s 1967 debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, through to his final effort, the supremely sublime You Want It Darker, released just days before his death in 2016 at age 82.
“It was an immensely gratifying experience to recontextualize these poems, and shine a different light on them,” said Klein of the songs that range from fan favorites to deep cuts. “I hope that this musical language that we developed together, the context that we put these things in, makes the songs connect with people in a new way.” Klein said that the result is similar to the concept behind the 2007 Grammy-winning Herbie Hancock Joni Mitchell tribute album, River: the Joni Letters, which featured a song with Cohen.
Listen to Taylor’s “Coming Back to You” and see the track listing below.
Here It Is: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen track list:
- “Steer Your Way” – Norah Jones
- “Here It Is” – Peter Gabriel
- “Suzanne” – Gregory Porter
- “Hallelujah” – Sarah McLachlan
- “Avalanche” – Immanuel Wilkins
- “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” – Luciana Souza
- “Coming Back to You” – James Taylor
- “You Want It Darker” – Iggy Pop
- “If It Be Your Will” – Mavis Staples
- “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” – David Gray
- “Famous Blue Raincoat” – Nathaniel Rateliff
- “Bird on The Wire” – Bill Frisell