Rarities And Unpublished Songs [no label 2CD]

A fascinating round-up of primarily live recordings, highlighting corners of the Leonard Cohen songbook that seldom make it out in public, and reaching from a Frankfurt show in 1972, through to the late 1980s in Berlin, and onto a couple of early 1990s collaborations (with Was Not Was and Elton John) pulled from those artists' official CD releases. 

It's a ragbag that might have been better served by a chronological arrangement. Instead, it rolls all over the place, while faulty sources mar several tracks - the Recent Songs out-take "Misty Blue" and a 1985 radio performance of "The Night Comes Down" play too fast; a live rendition of "Silent Night" is transformed into digital stew, and a few of the live performances are certainly more distant than most ears would find comfortable. 

But still 31 tracks include some absolute gems, including a 1979 soundcheck performance of "The Streets Of Laredo," a surprisingly effective cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody," a handful of stark medleys ("The Banks of Marble" into "The Partisan" is especially effective), and a couple of duets with long-time Cohen cheerleader Judy Collins. An early live version of "Iodine" is probably as powerful as the familiar take, while "Do I Have To Dance All Night" is transformed into a superb slice of reggae, complete with riotous audience clapalong.

The recent official remasters of Cohen's earliest albums have shown how little unreleased material he considers worthy of seeing the light of day - one assumes that, as the later LPs are rolled out again, this parsimony will remain. This set, then, plugs the gaping hole that exists in every Cohen collection and, though a more diligently-compiled set would certainly be preferable, for now, Rarities And Unpublished Songs at least offers a glimpse of the Holy Grail. - Dave Thompson

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July 20, 2007