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Live In London  

By Leonard Cohen. Columbia/Sony Music.


Leonard Cohen has the ability to articulate the loneliness of the heart, even if situated in the center of urban bustle. Longing and sadness linger, as if his voice is articulating some form of beauty coming to its end. Having published three books of poetry and a novel before the release of his debut record in 1967, Cohen has, over the course of more than 40 years, proven he is a master bard, songwriter and singer.

Due to the embezzling of funds by his former manager while Cohen spent six years at a Zen retreat, Cohen's finances have forced him to return to touring (he is currently on his first U.S. tour in 15 years). Recorded from a 2008 performance, Live in London is a document of Cohen's power as a performer of his songs, with vibrancy and poignancy. His low, nearly conversational delivery has now aged, reaching a new weathered plateau, like Johnny Cash. This performance contains a similar comfortable, affable connection between performer and audience, as Cash exemplified in his prison concert recordings. With his wry humor intact, Cohen says to the stadium-sized audience, "It's wonderful to be gathered here on just the other side of intimacy," as a sly introduction to "The Future." However, by the end of this two-disc performance, he has successfully gathered his audience back to the "side of intimacy." And he seems to do so with a gentle ease, from a voice that elicits trust.

The excellent band assembled for the recording contains a number of Cohen alumni, including musical director and bassist, Roscoe Beck (who also produced Cohen's 1988 release I'm Your Man), guitarist/pedal steel player Brian Metzger and vocalist Sharon Robinson. Veteran keyboardist Neil Larsen, who appeared with George Harrison's Dark Horse band and on numerous Rickie Lee Jones albums, subtly exhibits his keyboard skills, from the soulful "Bird on the Wire" to the minimalist rendition of "If It Be Your Will." The Spanish musician Javier Mas' exquisite playing of the barnduria, laud, archilaud and the 12-string guitar gives the folk-based originals, such as "Who By the Fire" and "Suzanne," a Middle Eastern, Balkan and Mediterranean edge.

After engineering three months of rehearsals and a warm-up tour of smaller concerts throughout Canada, Live in London captures Leonard Cohen, the master bard, in perhaps his most comfortable space as a performer, allowing the brilliance of his words and song to transcend an audience, even one with 20,000 fans. "So ring the bells ring that still can ring," Cohen recites, prefacing the lines of "Anthem." "Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

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Mark Shikuma

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