CD Review: Jennifer Warnes Page 2

Famous Blue Raincoat - The Songs of Leonard Cohen: 20th Anniversary Edition

I ultimately ended up pitting the new Shout! Factory CD against Classic's 180-gram vinyl pressing from 1996 - not out of some snobbish love of analog, but because, after listening repeatedly to the different earlier versions, this was the one that seemed to most accurately capture the recording. (How can I know that if I wasn't in the studio, and if I didn't hear the original mix? I can't. All I know is that it seems to faithfully reproduce the natural sounds of the instruments better than any of the earlier releases.)

While a comparison here of any track from the album would be revealing, I'll settle on "Bird on a Wire," because it has a dense yet clean mix featuring an open-sounding drum kit, lots of miscellaneous percussion, strongly contrasting musical settings, and some challenging choral harmonies near the end.

The Classic LP has the advantage in the midrange and bass, with a livelier, fuller sound to the drum kit in general and the tom-toms in particular, and it pulls Lenny Castro's bongo hits farther out of the mix. It also lets each voice in the choral section be clearly heard, whereas on the Shout! Factory version, the lower-range voices are obscured by the electric bass. But the new CD does better with the higher frequencies. For instance, the triangle, which is all but buried on the Classic LP, clearly rings out now. (Could this be attributed to subtle sonic differences between my CD player and turntable setups? Maybe, but I did enough comparisons between the two sources using other, long-familiar material to pretty much rule out the gear as a factor.)

Overall, can you somehow go wrong buying this new CD? Not really. I find it a little thicker-sounding than Classic's vinyl and CD versions, but the latter two are no longer readily available (and Warnes says they're illegal, to boot). If you want to check out this album for the first time or have lost your old copy - and if you're into recordings as recordings (but aren't that big on goosebumps) - then by all means get the new edition. As for the four bonus tracks, the only one that does much for me is the 1992 live performance of "Joan of Arc," mainly because it has an immediacy that's lacking from all the other tracks, including the original ones.

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