May. 29th, 2013

[identity profile]

Joan of Arc (ft Leonard Cohen)
Jennifer Warnes
Famous Blue Raincoat

: Like Stevie Wonder's Musiquarium  -- this album, cover art and tracklisting, is replete with memories of my childhood (that basement music room; belting out the lyrics with my father). In fact, I think my earliest memories of Leonard Cohen's songs are actually from this collection of Cohen covers by Jennifer Warnes. I definitely remember being surprised when I heard his growling original of "First We Take Manhattan" (and even preferring Jennifer's version until about 2009 -- oof!). But Cohen's original version of that song -- and many other of his tracks from the late 80s -- featured J-Warnes' backup vocals. They even wrote a couple songs together -- which is why, even though this album is laden with nostalgia on my behalf, it's also a fairly objectively interesting musical artifact. I mean, how often is it that a singer is intimately involved in the gender-bending recreation of his own work?

The songs are totally different, totally hers, but they still bear the inimitable weight of Cohen's approval. It's like listening to a musical version of a Master's thesis -- directed by the advisor, but emotionally inspired by the student. You can't quite escape the advisor's influence, much as you try -- especially if your advisor is a world-renowned genius. So.

But in "Joan of Arc," especially -- though true for all of them -- there is something rather inspired about switching the vocals to female. It's not that it's gender-bending, despite what I said earlier -- intentionally or not, for the most part Warnes picked songs which craft narratives as opposed to love letters. But to have a powerful female vocalist mellifluously crying out Cohen's guttural lyrics changes the tone and, in some respects, entire meaning of the songs. And how beautiful a testament to a brilliant writer: interpretation is key.

Warnes'"Joan of Arc" is beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful. It's beautiful when Cohen does it, too -- but Cohen does it as a waltz, in 3/4 time, sort of sweet and dance-y, very inoffensive (though that in itself makes a statement). The time signature isn't the only thing that changes completely in this version, though. In Warnes' hands -- and, of course, Cohen's -- the song becomes a haunting, sweeping, powerful duet between Joan of Arc (Warnes) and the fire that took her life (personified by Cohen, who covers his own lyrics -- in my opinion -- much more effectively here). It is a work of art.

But -- as with much of Cohen's work ------ for each new listener/reader, it's best if it speaks for itself.

I'll just say that while it is clearly Leonard Cohen and clearly lyrically brilliant and incomparable ---------- Jennifer Warnes' voice makes it magic.

(...and that in writing this post, I belted out the words just as loudly as I used to with my dad in the basement -- and oh my god, what a song to sing to.)
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Hot In Herre
Jenny Owen Youngs
The Take Off All Your Clothes EP

There is something kind of special about covers--especially when the cover is such a complete departure from the original.  Actually, if I may be so bold, I think that that is one of the basic tenets of covering a song well--it shouldn't sound like a carbon copy of the original.  The artist should make the cover something new; something that is all their own.

I first heard of Jenny Owen Youngs not because of "Hot In Herre", but after one of her original songs, "Fuck Was I", was featured on an episode of Weeds.  I love the latter and am almost sorry that it won't be your introduction to Owen Youngs.  It was THE go-to theme during moments of self-doubt.  It has that quiet cussing that I tend to love and its melody reminds me a bit of the sound made by a wind-up music box being played by one of those tiny monkeys wearing a hat.

When a woman covers a song originally performed by a man (and vice versa) it shifts that song's meaning a littleI don't know that Owen Youngs is doing that with any intentionality here (like, for instance, in the way Tori Amos did with the songs she chose to cover on Strange Little Girls) BUT her cover does make the listener consider the song in a different light.

What is interesting about this cover is that it is enjoyable--pretty, even--whereas the original is just so...annoying--no disrespect to Nelly, or anything (hahaha).  Jenny Owen Youngs' slowed-down, folksy rap version is lovely, but not devoid of a little tongue-in-cheek humour.  I love the male backing vocals on the chorus, the "Jenny" shout-outs and the exaggerated moans and grunts.  The lyrics are pretty ridiculous, there's no changing that, but Owen Youngs' voice and tone transform them into something that verges on poignant (verges, I said; verges). 


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