Box sets as catalog ghetto
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Dec. 23, 2011
Leonard CohenThe Complete Columbia Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy)
In January, Leonard Cohen's scheduled to release Old Ideas, his first new studio album since 2004's Dear Heather. That perhaps already renders this mini-LP replica set unnecessarily deficient, but 17 albums on an 18-CD collection capture the vaulted magnitude of Cohen's tower of song. Beginning with his secular trinity – 1968's timeless Songs of Leonard Cohen ("So Long, Marianne"), 1969's Songs From a Room ("Bird on a Wire"), and 1971's Songs of Love and Hate ("Famous Blue Raincoat") – Montreal's prophetic poet establishes his mix of the sacred and sexual in elegant elegies. From there, the highlights become less frequent, falling off after the grandiose multiplicity of 1977's Death of a Ladies' Man, produced by Phil Spector, until his first major comeback with the sophisticated modernism of 1988's I'm Your Man ("First We Take Manhattan"). Local bassist and current musical director Roscoe Beck earns his stripes, first appearing with his jazz-fusion ensemble Passenger as the backing band for the baroque Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979 and reuniting three decades later for 2009 double album Live in London and the following year's Songs From the Road. Judging from sheer output, Cohen's most comfortable on the road, a drifting romantic leading masses in quiet worship – a reverie best captured on the recently unearthed At the Isle of Wight 1970.