Hallelujah! Stuart Ryan dances like ‘a bird on the wires’ to shows you the folk troubadour’s usually nylon-string fingerpicking style.
Hallelujah! It’s one of those tracks that sends tingles down your spine and I, like many others, first became aware of it thanks to Jeff Buckley’s staggering cover on his debut album, Grace. The composer of the track was of course Leonard Cohen and it first appeared on his 1984 album Various Positions. Although Cohen’s place in the pantheon of great songwriters was already assured, the fresh exposure that Buckley’s cover provided gave his career a second wind and introduced him to a whole new audience.
Leonard Cohen was born in Canada on September 21, 1934 and, unlike many folk artists of his generation, commenced his musical career comparatively late at the age of 34. Prior to finding success as a singersongwriter Cohen had started out as a poet and novelist – indeed, listen to the rich imagery of the original, much longer version of Halleluljah and his way with words becomes immediately apparent. Cohen is in many ways the archetypal folk troubadour – gifted with a bittersweet observational lyricism and using the guitar as back-up to deep themes. His guitar style is typical of the time – simple fingerpicking patterns, basic strumming and arpeggiated chords but he will throw in interesting harmonic twists and turns so while it’s not too technical under the fingers there is always something for the ear to listen out for.
Cohen moved to New York in 1967 and became a part of Andy Warhol’s famous Factory crowd. Though a peripheral character, this world introduced him to various well-known artists who would go on to cover his songs, thus increasing his exposure and allowing him to develop as a solo artist and performer. His debut album, Songs Of Leonard Cohen was released on Columbia records in 1967 and James Taylor and Judy Collins covered several songs from the album. He toured extensively throughout the 1970s though faced something of a career hiatus in the 1980s – his profile grew again in the 1990s and 2000s and saw him tour worldwide again for many years. Over the decades he examined many styles and would combine his folk roots with jazz based orchestration, even working with Phil Spector on his 1977 album, Death Of A Ladies’ Man.
In this study we’ll examine a typical Cohen style part in 6/8 and see how Leonard would often take his listeners on an interesting harmonic journey along the way.
NEXT MONTH Stuart looks at the distinctive acoustic strumming style of Bruce Welch
most of the time one is discouraged by the work, but now and again by some grace something stands out Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen playing a Gibson Chet Atkins nylonstring electro