This is a song by Leonard Co­hen, but I’m talk­ing about it as per­formed by Jen­nifer Warnes. It may not even be Warnes’ best cov­er of a Co­hen tune, but it’s good enough to be any day’s song, and the record­ing is spe­cial.

Famous Blue Raincoat

Many years ago, Jen­nifer Warnes re­leased Fa­mous Blue Rain­coat, a col­lec­tion of Co­hen songs, and sold lot­s. It’s a fan­tas­tic record; Warnes in­hab­its Cohen’s tunes com­plete­ly. Which is a neat trick, since she’s got a big, creamy voice as wide as a riv­er and smooth as sat­in, while Cohen’s voice is ex­act­ly none of those things. And I love al­most all of Cohen’s al­bum­s; but this is very spe­cial stuff.

It’s tough pick­ing just one of these songs for -of-the-day ser­vice. Prob­a­bly my fa­vorite is the ti­tle tune; when Jen­nifer sings “Thanks (pause) for the trou­ble you took (pause) from her eye­s, I thought it was there (pause) for good…”  —  stone would melt.

But I’m go­ing with Joan of Arc for a cou­ple of rea­son­s. The first is the mag­is­te­ri­al, arch­ing video per­for­mance linked be­low. The sec­ond is…

Au­dio­phil­ia · This is one of my ma­jor vices. I’m a wor­ship­per of well-produced au­dio; there are blog man­i­festoes here and here. Any­how, Fa­mous Blue Rain­coat is that rare thing, an au­dio­phile fave that al­so has great mu­sic on it. If you go to an au­dio trade show and vis­it a suite where they’re show­ing a hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars worth of gear, it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing at all to hear Warnes singing Co­hen.

In par­tic­u­lar, it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to hear Joan of Arc. Just on this song, Leonard drops by to sing it as a duet with Jen­nifer. It’s pret­ty awe­some, and the way their voic­es are record­ed, flow­ing around and over each oth­er, is su­per awe­some. Which is to say, if you find your­self in the pres­ence of some­thing that claims to be a good au­dio sys­tem, you might want to put this on and see what you think. Warn­ing: This could lead to an ex­pen­sive hob­by.

The song · It’s a di­a­log be­tween Joan and the fire that’s burn­ing her at the stake. Which, while trag­ic, isn’t as mor­bid as it sound­s. Leonard Co­hen is good at words not just mu­sic, and finds the tri­umph in the tragedy. Al­so the tune is mem­o­rable, the ar­range­ment is mas­ter­ful, and did I men­tion it sounds great?

This is part of the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. Joan of Arc on Ama­zon, iTunes, Spo­ti­fy. Now, as for live video, pull up a chair, find your­self a han­ky, and check out this live per­for­mance, with a full or­ches­tra and to­tal com­mit­men­t, in Bel­gium in 1992. It turns out to have been a big enough hit that they put it on the 20th-anniversary edi­tion of the al­bum (cov­er pic­tured above) and you can get it sep­a­rate­ly: Spo­ti­fy, iTunes, Ama­zon.

Now, I’ve prob­a­bly of­fend­ed some Co­hen fans (like my broth­er for ex­am­ple) by gush­ing over the Warnes per­for­mance. For them, here are per­for­mances by Mr Co­hen both younger and old­er, both as duet­s, with fine fe­male singer­s. Al­so, a high-intensity per­for­mance (no video) by Joan Baez. But my heart be­longs to Jennifer’s.

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February 05, 2018
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