Virginia Omnivore
Leonard Cohen - Darkness
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Ever wanted to hear what it sounds like when Leonard Cohen records new music out of necessity?

Maybe you heard that he had officially retired from recording and touring. That was his official decision until back in 2005, when it came to light that his manager had pilfered $5 million from his retirement fund, leaving him with only $150,000 to his name. He went back on the road, releasing tour CDs/DVDs and re-issuing old concert films. I had one of those new albums and it quickly became evident that, aside from some stage banter and flourishes from the band, not much was changing. You went to see Leonard Cohen to say, “I can’t believe I saw Leonard Cohen!” To see him again was no different than going to see an old, washed-up Vegas act. He played his hits, encored with “Suzanne”, said goodnight. He even cracked a few jokes from time-to-time.
But all that’s changed, as a new album, Old Ideas, comes out on January 31. Here’s the second cut to be released from the album, “Darkness”. If you close your eyes, you can imagine that the 70-plus year old Cohen is the one playing that guitar, just like he did in the 60’s.
Laura Dunn With The Ghosts of Xmas Past - 06 Montreal
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DreamKeeper Cover Art

 

It all started with a bear…or at least that’s how she tells it. After breaking up with her fiancé -  an event that would cause anyone to question their direction in life - Laura Dunn accepted a friend’s invitation to his cabin in Montana while she sorted things out. Attempting to focus on something other than her MFA degree in poetry from the University of Montana, she began taking hikes outside the cabin. However, two weeks into her hikes, she found herself in a close encounter with a black bear. Deciding that hiking alone was no longer such a good idea, she chose to remain indoors. It was there that she found her friend’s banjo lying in the corner. Having n outside distractions, Dunn chose to teach herself how to play the banjo, learning different songs by ear, with no prior music education. Knowing she would have more use for the banjo, she was given the banjo, and together they moved to New York, where Dunn joined the songwriting circles of Jack Hardy

"I started going every week", Dunn says. "To this day that community has been the most supportive artistic community I’ve ever been in. Having to bring a song in every week, I started to fall in love with the process. I stopped writing poetry  and I started writing only songs. I think that when I write I am still writing poems, [but] with just a few more textures to work with — tone, melody, arrangement, etc. I think of myself more as a poet that’s found a new medium than a songwriter. But those terms are also pretty synonymous in my mind. I still write poems occasionally, but then my banjo calls me and they often turn into songs."

Ten months later, Dunn played her first show. As she was still suffering from stage fright, she chose to focus her eyes on an old friend, Christian Appel. A week later, they were playing together with Appel providing backing vocals. Afterwards, discussions arose about forming a band. With that, Laura Dunn and the Ghosts of Xmas Past were born.

Rounding out the Ghosts are Kirk Siee (double bass), Sarah Baum (accordion), Harry Einhorn (vocals, keyboard), and Brian Rady (vocals, guitar, percussion). Other friends also helped out with the band, and in May of 2011, with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, they recorded their debut album, “The Dreamkeeper and A Gun”.

Dunn: “The record started out as a solo recording of a few tracks without a real goal in mind. But after the first night, the boys started coming in for these all night sessions. Something really magical was happening…so we kept doing it and made a full record.”

The album itself has a feel that I like to refer as “Emmylou Harris singing from within a haunted house.” Dunn’s voice mixes with Appel’s vocal arrangements, giving it a feel that is earthy, yet also ethereal. The use of the banjo and somewhat autobiographical lyrics brings to mind Sufjan Stevens’ folk masterpiece, “Seven Swans.” Dunn takes moments from her own life and sets them within metaphorical surreal landscapes. In “Montreal”, she sings of our own attempts to create narratives around moments that need no narrative at all, such as walking in the rain with a friend (or a complete stranger). 

"If this were a film/we’d have ended up in love

If this were a novel/we’d have ended up dead”

Laura Dunn appears to be on a roll. After recently ending the second leg of a nation-wide tour, she is currently writing more songs to be performed by herself and the Ghosts in a play entitled The Orange Person at the Gene Frankel Theater during the month of November. There’s also talk of recording a new album in December, though no release date has been set.

And to think, this all started with a bear.

(Similar To) The Songs of Leonard Cohen

It’s been a long time since I’ve made a “mix tape”, digital or otherwise. I figured I’d try to get back into the swing of things and (hopefully) make this a weekly feature on my blog. 

This week’s mix, as the title so cleverly suggests, is inspired by Leonard Cohen’s debut album. I’ve been following his career since I saw his music used in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”; wanting to know more about this strange music I couldn’t describe - Electronic adult contemporary? Proto-jazz? - I copied every album I could find. In my search for more material, I was reminded of a song by him I’d yet to find. Years before seeing the film, I had copied over an NPR program that was playing “Suzanne”. So, my true first experience with Leonard Cohen is the opening strains of the song which are abruptly cut off and replaced by Ministry’s industrial-speed metal Psalm 69 album. (I still have that cassette, as I always felt it made an excellent “accidental” intro to that album.)

I eventually grew more curious about that 30-second snippet of serpentine guitar and the velvet voice that continued to haunt me- “Suzanne takes you down”…*click* - and when a friend offered to make me a copy, I accepted. And I loved every minute. 

So now that my rant has ended, feel free to hit the little “play” button in the bottom-left corner and enjoy. And, if you aren’t already familiar with Songs of Leonard Cohen, do yourself a favor and buy a copy

(Similar To) The Songs of Leonard Cohen Tracklisting:

Case Studies - The Eagle, or The Serpent

Linda Perhacs - (Hey Now) Who Really Cares?

Red House Painters - Trailways

Emily Jane White - Dark Undercoat

Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Black

The Mountain Goats - In Corolla

Laura Dunn with the Ghosts of XMas Past - Crooked Song

Cass McCombs - A Knock Upon The Door

On this, the same day that Jarvis Cocker, Erol Alkan, and Boyz Noize unleash a Leonard Cohen cover/dance remix, Jesse Lortz takes us back to the cabin in the woods with his video for the track, “Daggers” from The World Is Just A Shape To Fill The Night. Jesse and his group of female background singers easily bring back memories of the first time I heard Songs of Leonard Cohen, especially “So Long, Marianne”.

While it’s safe to say The Dutchess and The Duke are no more, it seems as though Jesse’s not quite ready to shake the California folk sound they so easily made their own. This won’t fit the bill for the summer jam I’m still seeking, but you can bet I’ll be playing this one very often when it arrives on August 16.

Hear more of the album at MTV Hive, or download two tracks at Stereogum and My Old Kentucky Blog.