A Musical Interlude – Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man

Mandy Gardner, the Voice’s melodious music reviewer, is away this week. She’ll have more great reviews for you soon, so in the meantime relax and enjoy this short musical interlude.

Release Date: November 2006
Label: Lions Gate
Running Time: 103 minutes
Rating: 8

Strictly speaking, this film featuring interviews with Leonard Cohen isn’t a music CD. But along with a series of conversations with Canada’s Tower of Song himself, this DVD is filled with enough of Cohen’s songs to satisfy even the most ardent fan.

The first thing we should probably get straight is that, before watching I’m Your Man, I was the last person that Leonard Cohen could count among his admirers. As un-Canadian as this may sound, I just couldn’t get past that somehow pretentious, too-self-aware exterior to actually listen to the words. All that changed, though, when I heard those rich, sometimes heart-wrenching lyrics performed by the talented musicians on this DVD.

Not only did I discover the jewels that Cohen creates out of words, I also stumbled upon some incredible performers that I might not otherwise have heard of.

The one that stands out the most is a singer named Antony Hegarty, of the band Antony and the Johnsons. His performance of Cohen’s ?If It Be Your Will? is nothing short of ethereal. Although there are those who may not enjoy his almost reluctant stage presence or his unique voice, his treatment of the song comes across as incredibly personal, as though we have gotten a glimpse of some old, deep pain when we weren’t supposed to be watching.

Another standout is Rufus Wainwright. Some may consider his style over the top–way, way over–but his take on ?Everybody Knows? is pure campy fun, and I’m amazed with each subsequent viewing at his remarkable vocal control. Later, he slows things down for a beautiful rendition of ?Hallelujah,? and his version of ?Chelsea Hotel? is stirring.

On the down side, the opening performance by Nick Cave almost made me turn the DVD off. I’m sure he has his fans, but I still can’t figure out what his hackneyed, posturing performances are doing on this otherwise great film. His handling of the title track ?I’m Your Man? seemed almost like a parody of a bad ?70s lounge singer, and the intentionally staggered phrasing of ?Suzanne? (with Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen) made me long for Leonard to take the microphone instead.

There are far too many performances to list here, but Beth Orton’s handling of ?Sisters of Mercy? and Teddy Thompson’s ?Tonight Will Be Fine? are two more wonderful moments.

By the end of the film, when Leonard himself joins Bono to sing ?Tower of Song,? I was actually won over enough to listen to that famous voice all the way through the number.

Would I buy a copy of a Leonard Cohen CD that features only him singing? No, but I’m Your Man has certainly won a convert to the beauty of his writing–and a new fan of several other wonderful artists.

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