Thanks For The Dance
Leonard Cohen had an extraordinary senescence. His albums Popular Problems (2014) and You Want It Darker (2016) were both released after his 80th birthday. And now, three years after his death, the Canadian song poet is back one more time, from beyond the grave.
Thanks for the Dance was, like You Want It Darker, produced by Cohen’s musician son, Adam. The nine songs aren’t leftovers that didn’t make the cut on previous projects. They’re songs that were sung with a cigarette- and whiskey-scarred voice, recorded in the last months of Cohen’s life while his body was ravaged by cancer.
Returning to the recordings after mourning, Adam Cohen added music, bringing in guests including Beck, Damien Rice, Feist, and members of the National and Death Cab For Cutie. Those luminaries thankfully never intrude on the stark simplicity of Cohen’s stately dirges. More essential is Javier Mas, the Spanish guitarist who accompanied Cohen on his epic 2009 world tour on “The Night of Santiago” and “The Goal.”
Cohen’s final songs are filled with the tidy couplets that blend grave seriousness with whimsy and sexuality that can get a bit icky when the aging ladies’ man is sharing details of remembered seductions. The Jewish soul searcher who became an ordained Buddhist monk doesn’t shy away from death as he sings about the frustrations of the process of making art as his body fails him.
“The day wouldn’t write what the night penciled in,” he sings in “The Hills,” the one song that he completed both words and music for before his death. And in the album’s closing song, “Listen To The Hummingbird,” he recommends looking for beauty and wisdom somewhere other than Leonard Cohen songs. Spiritual seekers would be better off paying heed to “the butterfly” or “the mind of God” instead, he suggests. “Listen to the hummingbird, whose wings you cannot see,” he talk-sings. “Don’t listen to me.” — Dan DeLuca
Kill or Be Kind
Right from her 2009 debut, Samantha Fish established herself as a complete-package blues force — guitar player, singer, songwriter. With Kill or Be Kind, her sixth solo album, she continues her musical evolution, confidently branching out from the blues while remaining rooted in them. Like the singer in the title song laying out a choice for a lover, Fish doesn’t confine herself to one approach here. The set starts with a bang with “Bulletproof,” a raw, metallic rocker with filtered vocals in the chorus and a nasty slide solo by Fish. That segues right into the slow, sultry, and horn-kissed “Kill or Be Kind.” And so it goes. Fast rockers like “Watch It Die” and “I Love Your Lies” give way to the silky soul-pop of “Try Not to Fall in Love With You” and the old-school R&B of “She Don’t Live Around Here,” as Fish herself alternates between tough and tender. Holding it all together through these songs that deal with matters of the heart is the way the singer and her cowriters distill articulations of often complicated and conflicting emotions into performances that pack an appropriate punch. On “Watch It Die,” Fish vows, “I won’t fade away.” No doubt. — Nick Cristiano
With Nicholas David, 8 p.m. Dec. 19 at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., $22-$32, 215-222-1400, worldcafelive.com
One of the Best Yet
(Gang Starr ***)
The late Guru was not one of the best rappers of the ’90s, but his longtime partner DJ Premier is one of hip-hop’s legendary producers. However, Guru publicly disavowed his former DJ (and Gang Starr) during his final years, and his final collaborator, Solar, was alleged to have falsified a letter by a comatose Guru praising Solar and axing Premier, so who knows what really happened there. It’s deeply uncomfortable regardless, when guest Royce da 5’9 brags on Gang Starr’s new “What’s Real” that “We’ve got the actual ashes of Guru on the boards.” This posthumous release is always listenable thanks to Premier, who packs cinematic sweep into a single loop on “From a Distance.” A gigantic violin sample like on “Bring It Back Here” makes an impact with Guru’s signature fugue-state flow for just 50 seconds. But it’s a shame that in death Guru couldn’t prevent the clearance of clunkers like “Diamonds are like my world of rap / Your rhyming [chuckle] is like a world of crap.” — Dan Weiss