Thirteen new (and old) songs from Canada’s hippest seventy-year-old. It’s folly to complain that Leonard Cohen has lost his voice, since he never really had one to begin with. From the thin Canadian-folkie drawl of 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen to the grave, gravelly tone that settled in circa 1988’s I’m Your Man, Cohen is such a sourpuss that it’s easy to miss his jokes. Take “Because Of,” from the new Dear Heather, in which he seems to enact the title of his 1977 album, Death of a Ladies’ Man: “Because of a few songs/Wherein I spoke of their mystery/Women have been exceptionally kind to my old age,” he croaks as only someone who lived with Rebecca De Mornay in his fifties before heading off to a monastery in his sixties can. “They say, ‘Look at me, Leonard/Look at me one last time.’ ”
What makes Dear Heather tick are the ladies who look back: longtime co-composer/producer Sharon Robinson and producer-engineer Leanne Ungar, as well as occasional co-lead vocalist Anjani Thomas, who open up the arrangements from the often repetitive Casio-lounge feel of 2001’s Ten New Songs. Sometimes their work evokes wood paneling and tip jars (“Go No More A-Roving,” with words by another famous poet, Lord Byron); sometimes it’s stark (the spoken-with-piano “Villanelle for Our Time”); sometimes subdued and trip-hoppy (“The Letters”). But given how monochromatic Cohen tends to be, the jumbled feel works in Dear Heather‘s favor.