Few weeks pass without some prominent new Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve been coming especially quickly of late. No surprise, really, with the man’s own posthumous album out last week to rave reviews. So, to try to keep up, we’ve rounded up a few of the best recent entries, in order from most Leonard Cohen-y to least Leonard Cohen-y.
Most Leonard Cohen-y goes, of course, to Bill Callahan, a man who gets compared to Leonard Cohen as much as any songwriter of his ilk. Poetic imagery, check. Understated melody, check. Incredibly deep voice, check check check. But though he certainly sounds like Cohen on his new “So Long, Marianne” cover, that doesn’t mean he mirrors the original. His take sounds like slacker rock with pedal steel, slow and meandering but with a bit more grit than Cohen gave it.
For a new Hanukkah album inspired by Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah shows, Haim tackled “If It Be Your Will.” The sisters echo in some ways Cohen’s former backing singers The Webb Sisters. Every night on Cohen’s last tours, this song was the moment they took center stage while Leonard looked on (Petra Haden just last month said her new cover was inspired by them). While the Webbs’ was a strictly folk affair on guitar and harp, though, Haim pop up the production slightly without losing sight of the vocal harmonies.
Alt-country eccentrics The Handsome Family are no strangers to Leonard Cohen covers, having most famously tackled “Famous Blue Raincoat” for Hal Willner’s splashy 2006 I’m Your Man tribute concert and album. Though, like Callahan, Brett Sparks has a similarly low voice to Cohen, his and wife Rennie’s new recording of “Tower of Song” for a Bloodshot Records comp shares little other connection, detouring deep into the recesses of old weird Americana.
Finally, We Are Scientists covered “Famous Blue Raincoat.” They’d knocked it out while recording an acoustic version of their breakout album With Love and Squalor, but said the cover had ended up homeless. Thankful, a BBC Cohen program let it see the light of day. They turn it into bass and synth-driven pop song, with a touch of Duran Duran as it builds. It ranks as the least Leonard Cohen-y of the bunch, largely because they nail the ’80s-style production better than the man himself did in the actual ’80s. Click here to listen to it (it starts at about the one hour, sixteen minute mark).