Vinyl Review: Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen

Another Vinyl review. You’re welcome.

Today I’m reviewing Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen (one of my absolute favorite albums). It’s Cohen’s 13th studio album and was recorded when he was 80 (!). Popular Problems was released in 2014.

I got my copy from a local Barnes & Noble. It’s a single disc, ten track album.

IMG_20170710_0949265.jpg

PHYSICAL IMPRESSIONS

  • This record is really light (160 grams most likely), and as it’s one of my most played albums, I worry about that sometimes.
    • Note: There’s no sound quality benefit to a thicker pressing inherently (there are some around the stability of the record for your needle and arm), but higher gram albums last longer, so I prefer it.
  • The record is a carbon black pressing, as I’ve noted I prefer. So great.
    • Note: Colored vinyls look cool, and are often thematic, but the carbon black increases the lasting power of the physical record itself, so I prefer that.
  • The cover leaves a bit to be desired. The colors strike me as weird, and they certainly don’t match the content of the album.

IMG_20170710_0949334.jpg

TRACK LISTING

Of the 10 songs on the track, all  were written (at least collaboratively) by Cohen (which is normal).

SIDE A

  • Slow– I love this song. It’s focused, regular beat, and Cohen’s off-track vocals give such an authentic feel. The gravelly purr of his voice as he moves through this blues and rhythm infused track really sets the tone for for the rest of the album.
  • Almost Like the Blues – The lyrical talent on this song is incredible. Somehow the disparate words weave this perfect story, and the minimalist instrumental backing really drives home Cohen’s growl. Probably my second favorite song on the album.
  • Samson in New Orleans – A haunting song about loss and pain, and missed potential. This song continues the very stripped down feel of the album (the backing is there, but it’s so subtle, it pushes Cohen to the front).
  • A Street – A song focused on love and condemnation, somehow Cohen pulls anger, longing, pain and cynicism into a single ballad that covers all of those feelings well. A great song.
  • Did I Ever Love You? – Throughout the chorus, Cohen takes a backseat to his backing vocalists, who carry the song into what feels like uncharted territory on this album. The questioning nature of the song, and almost “bluesgrass” feel of the chorus seem jarring the first go around, but after a few listens, it all clicks.

SIDE B

  • My Oh My: Another great song (I’m going to say that a lot), and the languid pace of the instruments as Cohen meanders his way to the end gives this song a somewhat-unique feel throughout.
  • Nevermind: A bit more up-tempo than the previous few songs, Cohen returns to the signature growl of his later work on this track. There’s a deep bitterness on this track, echoing against a sense of loss.
  • Born in Chains: A great song and one that Cohen had been working on since the 1980s, the time it spent in gestation shows. A ballad in the truest sense, it showcases the troubadour-esque nature of Cohen’s earlier work.
  • You Got Me Singing: A melancholic tune closes out the album, with lyrics about lost love, and references to religion and hymns. True Cohen in the best sense, and an excellent ending song.

img_20170710_09495081.jpg

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love this album. I’ve loved it since it came out, and I will continue to love it for years. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite artists and this vinyl does not disappoint.

I do wish the pressing was of slightly better quality (I’d prefer 200 grams), but in the end, as long as I can buy a new copy when mine wears out (which it will), I am satisfied and happy!

Vinyl Review: Traveller by Chris Stapleton

One of my big “off-line” hobbies is listening to, and getting vinyl records.

This week I got Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller record, so here’s a review!

Traveller is a 2015 release by Stapleton and is his first debut album (although he’s done lots of work on very popular country songs as a lyricist and backing vocalist).

I got my copy from Amazon (because I haven’t found a vinyl store here I’ve liked, though I haven’t tried very hard).

img_20170707_0846069.jpg

PHYSICAL IMPRESSIONS

  • The record isn’t a 200 gram weight pressing, and it might not even be 180 grams. (160 would be my guess).
    • Note: There’s no sound quality benefit to a thicker pressing inherently (there are some around the stability of the record for your needle and arm), but higher gram albums last longer, so I prefer it.
  • The record is a carbon black pressing, so points in it’s favor for that!
    • Note: Colored vinyls look cool, and are often thematic, but the carbon black increases the lasting power of the physical record itself, so I prefer that.
  • The Black and White photos on the cover and back are attractive and set a certain look and impression that I find appealing. It conveys a “worn” or “well-used” aesthetic that matches Stapleton’s vocals and lyrics.

img_20170707_08274251.jpg

TRACK LISTING

Of the 14 songs on the track, 12 were written (at least collaboratively) by Stapleton. This is not a kid friendly album (as a note).

SIDE A

  • Traveller – The title track is a strong track, focused on establishing the tone of the album and it does a wonderful job. At times melancholy, at times defiant and joyful, Stapleton establishes his brand of country and the backing vocals from Morgane Stapleton (his wife) are strong and serve well as a compliment to his lead.
  • Fire Away – A down turn after Traveller, this song is likely my least favorite on the album. While Stapleton delivers great vocals, the song itself seems to wallow and drag itself on.
  • Tennessee Whiskey – A singularly fantastic cover by Stapleton, this song is one of my favorites on the album. It’s strong, thematic, and highlights Stapleton’s unique sound. Morgane Stapleton’s vocals again serve as the perfect compliment.
  • Parachute – A popular radio hit from this album, this is another very good song. Stapleton digs his heels into the lyrics, dragging them out into the song with some serious panache.

SIDE B

  • Whiskey and You: A heart-wrenching comparison of love and alcohol, I give this song high marks for it’s stripped down nature, and it’s natural sound.
  • Nobody to Blame: A track that puts Stapleton’s lyrical prowess on display, this might be my favorite song on the album. Comparatively, it’s fast moving and a bit more “rock” in it’s pace and tempo than the others on this album, service as a great second track on the B-Side.
  • More of You: A middling track, this feels like a filler track on the album. Put here to keep it going, but not really serve to showcase much. It has a very classic country sound, and it sorta rolls in and out of your ears and listening field.
  • When The Stars Come Out: Probably my second least favorite track on the album, this one is nice, but it just doesn’t fill a need on this album another song doesn’t feel better.

SIDE C

  • Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore: Probably the most heart-wrenching song on the album, you can hear Stapleton’s voice cracking and breaking with emotion on this song, lending it a crushingly haunting and personal feeling.
  • Might As Well Get Stoned: There’s a strong sense of resignation and triumph alternating through this song. It’s not “fun”, but it’s energetic, interesting, and a listening pleasure.
  • Was It 26: A cover of the Charlie Daniels classic (the second of two non-Stapleton penned songs on this album), Stapleton has chosen a great classic to cover here, showing an unique take on a staple of country music.

SIDE D

  • The Devil Named Music: A condemnation of the stresses of touring and road life, this track hits hard, and keeps moving. I really like this one.
  • Outlaw State of Mind: A track that seems more inspired by AC/DC than country, Outlaw State of Mind is an aggressive, tough sound on this album, and a great way to (almost) close off the album.
  • Sometimes I Cry: At the end of the album, Stapleton returns to the melancholy and heartbreak that has defined most of this album. A good, solid closer song, though I’d have preferred to swap the track order, and put this ahead of Outlaw State of Mind.

IMG_20170707_0846298.jpg

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really like this album. The listening sound on vinyl sells the authentic nature of this production, and the whole thing feels very personal. Stapleton has a strong grasp of simple, yet deep lyrics, and the whole album resonates with a personal touch throughout.

His wife provides excellent backing vocals, and the entire production team which was Stapleton and his producer, Dave Cobb really cut against the standard country mold here.

The more I think about it, the more I’d push this album into the 9/10 range (a few weaker tracks hold it back). I can’t wait for his next album.