Andrea Ramolo – Homage (independent)
Does the world need an album of Leonard Cohen covers? Such projects usually come across as a cheap attempt by an unknown artist—or a veteran short on ideas—to capitalize on a familiar songbook. Rarely does such a record rise above rote recitation—but this one does.
Ever since Jennifer Warnes’s 1986 blockbuster Famous Blue Raincoat, comprised entirely of Cohen covers, it’s been a cliché to say that Cohen’s songs are better served by better singers than himself. Many a singer has used Cohen’s lyrics as a shortcut to solemn wisdom. It’s a genuine gift to take a Cohen song and make the listener forget they’re listening to songs so closely associated with the voice of their writer.
Torontonian Andrea Ramolo works here with Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins, with whom she made her highly underrated 2017 album Nuda; she’s also contributed to Lee Harvey Osmond records, featuring Timmins and Tom Wilson. That means she’s more than capable of being a master of mood, imbuing all the material here with a seductive menace: like Cohen, her delivery is undeniably alluring, and yet dangerous. Songs like “The Future” and “Everybody Knows” are never easy listening, and as a vocalist, Ramolo knows all about disguising a fist in a velvet glove.
Every artist who undertakes a project like this is torn between balancing the best-known songs and the deep cuts. Ramolo could easily have dropped the likes of “Suzanne,” “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Dance Me to the End of Love”—pretty much any monkey could sing those songs and they’d sound great. To her credit, she doesn’t go near “Hallelujah.” She truly shines when she illuminates “My Oh My” (from 2014’s Popular Problems) and “The Law” (from 1984’s Various Positions), or when she truly puts her own stamp on “The Future” and “Who By Fire.”
There are a lot of Cohen covers out there. Ramolo is one of the precious few who does them well. (Nov. 30)
Stream: “Who By Fire,” “If It Be Your Will,” “The Future”