In 1967, many singers were claiming to be poets. But Leonard Cohen was a real poet who was trying to be a singer. And although some critics still decry Cohen's vocal abilities, very few disparage the man's strengths as a wordsmith. These reissues of Cohen's first three albums offer pristine sound, some interesting bonus material and a fresh chance to admire the deceptively simple songs crafted by one of the most singular and influential figures to come out of the late'60s counter-culture. Unlike Dylan's lyrics, Cohen's words were neither masked by imagery nor beholden to any notion of folk traditionalism. In (often-covered) songs such as "Suzanne," "Sisters of Mercy," "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" (all from Songs of Leonard Cohen), the former Canadian poet laureate detailed personal experience with insights that were wise, explicit and, well, poetic. The initial flare of his debut was somewhat muted on Songs from a Room and Songs of Love and Hate, but the idealistic truths found in "Bird on a Wire," "Last Year's Man" and "Famous Blue Raincoat" are even now profound and substantial. As for extra material: Songs of Leonard Cohen features "Store Room" and "Blessed Is the Memory," two tracks from an aborted full-band session with noted rock impresario John Hammond, while Songs from a Room contains "Like a Bird," an embryonic version of "Bird on a Wire." The former two songs are filled with a raggedness not often demonstrated, while the latter tune highlights the delicate balance of word and phrase that will always be Cohen's greatest gift. His vision was articulate, and this 40th anniversary of his original recordings is as good a time as any to appreciate his bohemian charm.
— Darryl Smyers
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