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The best Leonard Cohen covers that aren’t 'Hallelujah'
By
Editorial Staff

Published

September 17, 2014

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Covering Leonard Cohen seems to be a rite of passage for musicians, Canadian and international alike. Some pay homage to a man who inspires them (Buck 65, Louise Burns), others want to start with the best and include a cover on their debut album (the Neville Brothers, Kashka, Roberta Flack) or in their sets (the Civil Wars), while still others make Cohen covers a tradition throughout a career (Nick Cave).

No matter the reasoning, we get it. Cohen is gospel. So we've put together some of the best Canadian and international Cohen covers that aren't "Hallelujah" (because enough already, even though it's an amazing song).

Scroll through below to learn more about each track, curated by Radio 3's James Booth and Andrea Gin and CBC Music's Holly Gordon and Jesse Kinos-Goodin.

Song: "Lover Lover Lover"
Artist: Jenn Grant

Grant released this song earlier this year on her EP, Clairvoyant. It is not only a gorgeous cover of the song, but she also made an equally beautiful video to go along with it.


Song: "So Long, Marianne"
Artist: The Strumbellas

This song was part of the late, great music blog Herohill's Bard of Montreal, a tribute album to Leonard Cohen. They asked their favourite bands to cover a Cohen song that meant something to them, resulting in an excellent collection that includes covers from Teenage Kicks, Kathryn Calder, Daniel Ledwell and others. It's a little hard to find nowadays but well worth the effort.

 

Song: "First We Take Manhattan"
Artist: Mark Berube and the Patriotic Few

Mark Berube put a smooth indie folk spin on this version, found on his Tailored to Fit EP from 2010.


Song: “So Long, Marianne” 
Artists: Sean Rowe and Lost in the Trees

There’s no question that Sean Rowe has the perfect voice for covering anything Leonard Cohen — that timbre is spot on. There’s a raw power to Rowe that makes this cover all his own, though, and the full band collaboration with Lost in the Trees is just gorgeous.


Song: “Dance Me to the End of Love”
Artists: The Civil Wars

Who better to cover this love song than a duo that had us falling head over heels from day one? Joy Williams and John Paul White — sadly no longer creating music together, oh our broken hearts — are perfectly cast in this Cohen song of devastating origin.


Song: "Gypsy's Wife"
Artist: Louise Burns

Burns covered this song on her 2011 album,Mellow Drama. It's probably the perfect Cohen song for her to cover; the brooding, gothic flourishes make the song hazier and dreamier than the original.


Song: “Bird on a Wire”
Artist: The Neville Brothers

This cover was included on the Neville Brothers' debut album, released in 1978. It was also played over the credits of the Mel Gibson/Goldie Hawn movie of the same name, which we won't allow to detract from the wonderfulness of the brothers' voices.


Song: “Famous Blue Raincoat”
Artist: Tori Amos

To be quite honest, we’d listen to Amos sing Cohen’s liner notes (or any liner notes, for that matter). This cover of “Famous Blue Raincoat” has no match — pour a drink, sit down in front of a wintry window and contemplate your place in life, why don’t you.


Song: “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”
Artist: Lana Del Rey

"Chelsea Hotel No. 2" is already such a sad, affecting song about Cohen's run-in with Janis Joplin at the infamous New York hotel, but Lana Del Rey ups the melancholy with her gloomy, almost flat delivery. When you cover a Cohen song, especially one like this, it serves the song better when you can match Cohen's detached, non-plussed delivery.


Song: "Dance Me to the End of Love"
Artist: Misstress Barbara

We weren't sure about a dance mix of this song, but it turns out Cohen's songs (well, at least this one) translate pretty well to the disco floor.


Song: “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
Artist: Roberta Flack

Flack sings the lyrics to "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" as if they were written solely for her. She takes her time, lingering often. It's the rediscovering of a Cohen favourite. The cover was included on Flack's debut album, First Take— a theme with Leonard Cohen covers, we've discovered.


Song: “I’m Your Man”
Artist: Nick Cave

Looking up Cohen covers sung by Nick Cave is a bountiful affair — the photo above was even taken at a Leonard Cohen tribute night. With this cover of "I'm Your Man," though, we have the deep-voiced, slow-burn call from the depths of hell that we were looking for (not an insult, to be sure). Nick Cave, you had us at "I'll do anything you ask me to."


Song: “If It Be Your Will”
Artist: Antony Hegarty

That voice. While we are completely head over heels with this cover, a word of warning: don't listen to it on repeat, or you'll never be brought back from the heartache it will surely cause.


Song: "Everybody Knows"
Artist: Kashka

Former Forest City Lovers frontwoman Kashka (a.k.a. Kat Burns) does an indie dance-pop take here on "Everybody Knows." The song was a bonus track on her debut album, Vichada.


Song: “Master Song”
Artist: Beck

Beck, Devendra Banhart and members of MGMT covered the entirety of Songs of Leonard Cohenas part of Beck's Record Club project. The devastating "Master Song" covered as an old-school hip-hop track? Yes, please.


Song: “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
Artist: The Lemonheads feat. Liv Tyler

Liv Tyler? The Lemonheads? Don't judge what you don't yet understand.


Song: “One of us Cannot be Wrong”
Artist: Father John Misty

The former Fleet Foxes drummer transforms "One of us Cannot be Wrong," while still showcasing Cohen's broody. This song is full and beautiful.


Song: "There is a War"
Artist: Cold War Kids

As part of a project called Old Ideas With New Friends, Cold War Kids took this already (unusually) uptempo Cohen song and kicked it up a notch. The list of artists that contributed to the project include A.C. Newman, Cults, the Mountain Goats and more. Be sure to check them all out.


Song: "Who By Fire"
Artist: Buck 65 feat. Jenn Grant

You can hear Grant singing vocals here on this pretty cover of "Who By Fire" from Buck 65's 2011 album, 20 Odd Years. Probably one of our favourites on this list.