Leonard Cohen: “Amen” and “Come Healing”

The Cinch Review

In concert lately, Leonard Cohen has been following his song “Amen” with his song “Come Healing,” which are both from his most recent album, Old Ideas.

There’s a fan’s YouTube clip embedded below, and a few thoughts from yours truly on the songs below that.

I think that “Amen” is as harrowing a song as he’s ever written. To my ears at any rate it is a deep moan to God, without sentimentality, laying out the worst of this world, begging maybe just to be able to believe it will be put right. Can God really want us, actually love us, after all of it? It’s a prayer for the evidence. Continue reading “Leonard Cohen: “Amen” and “Come Healing””

Thanksgiving

The Cinch Review

This evening, at a Thanksgiving Eve service at our little chapel in the wildwood, we heard a beautiful performance of a piece called Dank sei Dirr, Herr, sung by a mezzo-soprano accompanied by only piano. I was not familiar with the tune, but it was credited to Siegfried Ochs (1858-1929) in the service guide, and a little checking suggests that this is the widely-accepted accreditation these days, although it used to be believed that Handel had composed it.

Anyway, I was quite struck by it, both the beauty of the performance and the composition, and also its moving aptness in a Thanksgiving service. I’m embedding a version via YouTube at the bottom of this post, a grand performance with a singer named Gundula Hintz. The lyric is in German (which I’ll put below the video) but the translation is as follows:

Thanks be to Thee,
Lord God of Hosts:
Thou broughtest forth Your people
with Your mighty hand
Israel safe through the sea.

Lord, like a shepherd
Thou hast led us;
Lord, Thy hand protected us
in Thy goodness tenderly as in ages past.

The words sound reminiscent of any number of songs of praise and psalms from the Bible, but I don’t know a precise source, if there is one. The last few verses of Psalm 77 could be one.

Yet, the message is beautifully historic and specific and at the same time up-to-the-minute, relevant and universal. You might paraphrase it: Thank You, Lord God, for protecting Your people in the past, and thank You for protecting Your people now, every moment of every hour.

Some of us might just add a prayer that we indeed count among God’s people. Continue reading “Thanksgiving”

All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett by David Evanier

I’ve recently read David Evanier’s All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett, and it seems to me that it will stand as the essential written reference point for anyone interested in this great American singer’s life and music. Of-course, being about the only proper biography written of Bennett (excluding his 1998 autobio The Good Life in collaboration with music-writer Will Friedwald) it lacks obvious competition. Nevertheless, this book is no knockoff, but an assiduously researched work by a writer completely engaged with his subject matter. It is far from an official biography and proceeds with that freedom; the aggressively private Bennett himself did not grant an interview and neither did some figures whom one could rate as key intimates of the singer, but out of a number of in-depth conversations with those individuals who did grant interviews, and a thorough marshaling of what is already public record, David Evanier has constructed an estimably credible and robust account of Bennett’s life and career.

When it comes to books on major figures in the entertainment world, you often have a dichotomy between those which focus on the famous individual’s personal life versus those which look at their art and life’s work with an appreciative eye. Evanier combines both approaches here, and, in addition to being the best way, objectively-speaking, of approaching the task, in Bennett’s case it also must be seen as the absolutely obligatory way. There could be no way of telling Tony Bennett’s life story in a meaningful way without getting to grips with his passionate devotion to his chosen musical form, and the full range of struggles and successes he has experienced in that realm. Continue readingAll the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett by David Evanier”

Raquel Welch is right (and notes on Limbaugh/Fluke)

The Cinch Review

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch always gives an amusing interview. At 71 years-old, she’s not only a working actress in amazing and beautiful shape, but is prone to dishing commonsense with a great pithy and sassy style. In an interview with—of all things—the magazine Men’s Health, Welch fires bullets on the cultural decline being brought on by rampant sexual explicitness. Commenting first on the music business, she says:

It used to be about a great song, great lyrics and a great voice. And now everybody is more concerned with being cutting edge and pushing the envelope. You have to be funkier, you have to be more audacious and more provocative than anybody else. When there’s somebody like Adele, it seems revolutionary because she’s not out there in a g-string and pasties. You forget that all music, all art, isn’t about T&A and girls spreading their legs for the camera.

Observing society more generally, she goes on:

I think we’ve gotten to the point in our culture where we’re all sex addicts, literally. We have equated happiness in life with as many orgasms as you can possibly pack in, regardless of where it is that you deposit your love interest.

[…]

It’s just dehumanizing. And I have to honestly say, I think this era of porn is at least partially responsible for it. Where is the anticipation and the personalization? It’s all pre-fab now. You have these images coming at you unannounced and unsolicited. It just gets to be so plastic and phony to me. Maybe men respond to that. But is it really better than an experience with a real life girl that he cares about? It’s an exploitation of the poor male’s libidos. Poor babies, they can’t control themselves.

These are something of a continuation of observations she made in writing a couple of years ago. She’s on the money, and if the world were organized correctly, she would be head of Sociology at Princeton or somewhere like that. Continue reading “Raquel Welch is right (and notes on Limbaugh/Fluke)”

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

The Cinch Review

Swing Low Sweet Chariot

In many Christian churches this morning, the first reading would have been from Second Kings, chapter two, where the prophet Elijah is taken by God while his assistant and successor Elisha (who had repeatedly refused to leave him) looks on. They are walking by the river Jordan when it happens.

And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.

That image of chariots of fire coming for Elijah inspired the widely-beloved spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which is credited to Wallis Willis, a Choctaw freedman who is believed to have composed it sometime circa 1860. Continue reading “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes

The Cinch Review

Bono (of U2) recorded the Jimmie Rodgers song “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes” for a Jimmie Rodgers tribute albumthat was put out on Egyptian Records in 1996. If you happen to look for it on YouTube currently, you’ll see multiple instances where it’s been uploaded, but most of the people uploading and commenting on it seem to be under the impression that the song is actually a Bono or U2 original.

You can listen to the embedded version above (though you might want to avoid looking at the slideshow of images associated with it by this particular uploader). A lot of the YouTubers believe it’s one of Bono’s greatest songs, or even the greatest. It’s not that surprising they assume it’s an original, because Bono’s rendition is certainly far away from any blue yodeling connotations; his characteristically big, breathy vocal floats atop a bed of piano and rising strings. However, that the version works very well is beyond question. In fact, I think it’s total dynamite, and likely the most striking contribution to that album (which is itself very good). Continue reading “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes”

(Review) The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Review of The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams
Hank Williams’s voice is a unique and a gigantic one in American culture, which means that it is also one familiar to those who listen to popular music all across the world. Hank Williams is recognizable singing, say, “I Saw The Light,” or “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” even by people who couldn’t remotely be described as fans, in the same way as Bing Crosby is instantly recognizable singing “White Christmas,” or John Wayne is instantly recognizable in a cowboy hat saying, “The hell I won’t!” Hank Williams is just there as a reference point like the pyramids of Egypt or the Grand Canyon.

In speaking of Hank Williams’s voice, however, I very much mean it both in the sense of the instantly-recognizable product of his vocal cords and in the sense of what that voice has to say: that is, how Hank Williams in singing a song describes the world, captures an emotion, issues a plea.

Although he died at the age of 29, Hank Williams is a patriarch of country music (if it’s legal to use the term patriarch anymore) but he is also much more than that: he is both patriarch and patron saint to songwriters everywhere, and to discerning aficionados of the art of song across all genres. No one lays it out there quite like Hank Williams did over and over again in his short songwriting career, with such a devastating combination of depth, honesty and economy. Even his more light and humorous songs are models of how to write a tune that’s instantly accessible, unpretentious and utterly timeless.

This album, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, is drawn from lyrics found in Hank Williams’s notebooks after his death, and offered fifty years later to this selection of songwriters and performers to put to music and finish. (Initially, all of the lyrics were offered to Bob Dylan, but after long consideration he decided that “the task is too mighty” and finished just one song himself, that one being “The Love That Faded.”) After living with the album for a little while, my own feeling is that this collection is nothing less than a gift.

These new recordings also offer a chance to ponder the question of where exactly Hank Williams’s voice resides, after all. Is it in the words that he wrote, or does it require his own actual voice and his own melodies in order to be heard? The answer isn’t simple, and maybe it’s not graspable at all by us humans, but reflecting upon it does shed a kind of light.

What would you or I think if we came across these words scribbled in a random notebook?

Blue is my heart, blue as the sky
Memories of you, they’re making me cry
Longing for you in days all gone by
Blue is my heart, blue as the sky

Honestly, for myself, I would think that they were pretty darned banal, and I’d likely think nothing more of it. Saying that your heart is as blue as the sky, that memories are making you cry … what could be more bland, more ordinary and unremarkable? On the page, it’s difficult to spot any particular voice there, let alone that of a towering songwriter.

Holly Williams with harmony by her father Hank Jr.

Yet, the transformation that takes place when these words are put to a simple, plaintive melody and sung with a heartfelt ache is utterly astounding. That “Blue is my heart, blue as the sky” line goes from seeming offhand to being truly heartwrenching; it’s a line that to my ears now plumbs the soul. The blueness of the singer’s poor broken heart is now juxtaposed so poignantly with that beautiful blue sky, making the sadness there so much more unbearably sad. And then, again, the blueness of that poor broken heart is just like the blueness of the sky: broad, deep, infinite—never to be filled.

Tracklist: The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams
1. You’ve Been Lonesome, Too – Alan Jackson
2. The Love That Faded – Bob Dylan
3. How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart? – Norah
Jones
4. You Know That I Know – Jack White
5. I’m So Happy I Found You – Lucinda Williams
6. I Hope You Shed a Million Tears – Vince Gill
and Rodney Crowell
7. You’re Through Fooling Me – Patty Loveless
8. You’ll Never Again Be Mine – Levon Helm
9. Blue Is My Heart – Holly Williams
10. Oh, Mama, Come Home – Jakob Dylan
11. Angel Mine – Sheryl Crow
12. The Sermon on the Mount – Merle Haggard

Hank Williams’ little lines might have seemed like nothing on paper, but in the hands of another songwriter and singer (in this case his granddaughter Holly Williams) tuning into the same channel Hank heard, and handling his words with love, they become yet another great song, and one that can stand beside the ones he himself sang. His voice is indeed there and is quite unmistakable. It took a kind of alchemy and magic to bring it out of those words, alive and tangible, but it had been preserved within them somehow.

I’m not going to go down the tracks on this album one by one and rank or rate them. As said, I do think that the album as a whole constitutes a gift: great new songs from the well spring that was Hank Williams, now 58 years after his death. There’s nothing resembling a clunker. I think that each performer does a loving and beautiful job with the lyrics they were given. Some lean more towards a melody that sounds like Hank, while others make music that sounds more like what they’d do themselves, but both approaches bear fruit, and Hank’s voice never disappears; it’s persistent and true.



An album like this is not by its nature a cohesive whole, although these 12 tracks over 37 minutes do make for good listening at a sitting. However, it’s a collection of individual songs that will live on in the repertoires of these performers, and likely spawn some great cover versions in a similar way in which Hank’s originals did and continue to do. Kudos to producer Mary Martin, to Bob Dylan, and to all involved.

That said: When I write about music releases, I tend to consider their audio quality in relation to the lamentable loudness war (although I’m wouldn’t want to present myself as the final arbiter of these things). In this case, my own perception is that the CD does suffer from some excessive compression of dynamic range—which is a crying shame as always—but it is not on the extreme level of many other releases of modern times. (I have not myself heard the vinyl version.)

But I do factor this into the rating of the CD itself. (Music industry take note.)

Rating: Nine out of ten lead pipes.
9 out of 10 lead pipes

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams on Egyptian/CMF Records/Columbia