CD Review: Jennifer Warnes

Famous Blue Raincoat - The Songs of Leonard Cohen: 20th Anniversary Edition Shout! Factory
Music ••• Sound ••••
I spent my first years in publishing dwelling in the most rarefied heights of the high end - a region I now realize could have used considerably more oxygen - and all the rage at that time was audiophile-quality recordings of clear-voiced chanteuses covering gravel-voiced singer/songwriters. I was largely taken in by this phenomenon, closing my eyes contemplatively as the music quietly (always quietly) began, nodding appreciatively to every tasteful nuance of the discrete and lithesome arrangements, and appearing, to any neutral observer, completely enthralled by what was transpiring.

A decade later, I feel distinctly snookered. It's not that those qualities weren't there, in both the recordings and the performances. It's just that, while I appreciated them, they never really moved me - a problem I now frequently encounter whenever I go back through the "cream" of my collection of audiophile discs. Most of these albums were created for people who like to keep their music at arm's length - who want to be brushed lightly by the experience, not dragged in, body and soul.

So I had mixed feelings about reviewing the 20th Anniversary Edition of the ne plus ultra of the angel-sings-devil movement, Jennifer Warnes's Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. I know I was bewitched by it at the time; I also know that at least 6 years have passed since I've felt any urge to slip it into my drive or onto my platter.

Aesthetically, it's an interesting relic of a far more affected age. At this distance, I'd rather dive back into any of Tom Waits's midperiod masterpieces than delve into the Cohen catalog. And as for the various attempts to "redeem" these wayward writer/performers through sheer technique, I'd rather sample Holly Cole's occasionally sublime Waits traversal Temptation.

That said, Bernie Grundman has now remastered Raincoat from the original tapes, and the decision to tinker with an album that some see as an ultimate reference disc presented me with an interesting challenge. So I rounded up all my various copies of Raincoat, including the original Private Music CD and the later Classic Records CD under its Rock the House label, and did the most careful comparison I could.