Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat 1987

If you know this record, you might be asking yourself why I should write about it. It's one of the most written about records in recent music history, at least within the audiophile press, and deservedly so. To hear it for the first time on a serious hi-fi is an ear-opening experience. It has music on it that can help you evaluate the quality of the system you're listening to, maybe thinking about buying. The recording is legend.

But that doesn't mean anything if the music and performance aren't there. The same people who worship this record for it's sound often listen to inferior performances just because they are well recorded. This one really has it all.

This is a record of Leonard Cohen songs, and that generally sounds like a bad idea to me. I don't like the ones he makes. I just can't stand his singing. But Warnes has a deep respect for the man, and sang in his band throughout much of the seventies. She inhabits this music, and her beautiful voice makes it clear what a superior songwriter Cohen is.

The music is made by a band of exceptional musicians, studio aces and guest celebrities. The personnel on the record reads like a who's who of modern popular music circa 1987. Cohen's deeply personal ballads and mid-tempo rockers are performed at the most professional level imaginable, and yet, yet, even then, these performances have soul and depth beneath the gloss. Much of that is due to Warnes herself. If she isn't the very best singer of her generation, then she's the most underrated. She's made several other fine records, but she hasn't bettered this one.

If you haven't heard it, you should. Original Cypress Records vinyl pressings go for big bucks unless you find one at a garage sale and they don't know what they've got. There's new vinyl at criminal prices that's said to sound great, but no current, reasonably priced vinyl exists. There's a nice sounding 20th Anniversary CD that's fine. Whatever you do, don't buy this one in mp3. That would just be wrong.

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