Whine and cheese with a twist of joie de vivre
ICONOCLAST that he is, Leonard Cohen has polarised listeners through the years. Those who have put down his work as ‘‘ music to slit your wrists by’’ will have reason to revise their opinion after listening to Sydney band Monsieur Camembert and friends’ uplifting tribute. Even those who worship at his shrine may see the epithetic Bard of Bedsit Land in a different light. While there have been myriad covers of his songs, the eclectic Monsieur Camembert ensemble exerts a different kind of expertise, putting reggae, tango, klezmer, Latin and other global lilts on a jazz and swing base to a score of the veteran Canadian singer- songwriter’s pieces. Recorded live, Famous Blue Cheese puts the accent on the composer’s underrated melodies as much as his poetic lyrics. Head cheese Yaron Hallis’s singing brings a measure of joie de vivre missing in the lugubriously delivered originals. Four fine female guest singers interpret admirably, though Abby Dobson’s and Elana Stone’s versions of Hallelujah and Suzanne, respectively, fall not unexpectedly shy of Jeff Buckley’s and Nina Simone’s classic renditions. Carla Werner’s version of The Guests will not be subjected to such odious comparisons. The Future, given a Dixieland makeover, and Memories, which comes with doo- wop embellishment, stand in their own right. The 10: 22 running time of Everybody Knows allows the vocalists to alternate verses and the instrumentalists to stretch out. An Italian tarantella- esque reading of Closing Time and Dance Me to the End of Love, the latter with an infectious hum- along chorus, ensures a rousing finish. Monsieur Camembert has succeeded in doing justice to the songs’ emotional, lyrical and melodic intent while adding a new dimension. The double album allows a full appreciation of Cohen’s genius. The old grizzler should be eternally grateful.