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Thanks For The Dance

Leonard Cohen

It turns out that Cohen had one more album in him, or at least enough of one to enable his son Adam and a sympathetic coterie of background singers and musicians to turn it into something befitting his singular legacy. The sepulchral whispers, the poetic verbal economy, the intermingling of the sacred and the profane—everything that ever made Cohen fascinating is here. Most fascinating of all, he ends by imploring his fans not to listen to him anymore but to listen instead to “the mind of God.”

If You’re Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison

Various artists

In an uncommon twist where tribute albums are concerned, most of these various artists are A-listers. Not that their status automatically grants them access to Allison’s sardonic paradoxes: The difference between those who come across as Allison admirers (Taj Mahal, Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde) and those who come across as Allison soul mates (John Chin and Richard Julian, Robbie Fulks, Loudon Wainwright III) is palpable. That being said, three cheers for Fiona Apple singing “Your Molecular Structure.” And Jackson Browne’s “If You Live” could delight Tonio K.

Three Chords & The Truth

Van Morrison

That the dark night of the soul (the title of Track 3) from which Morrison has emerged may have been of his own making does not diminish these performances. He hasn’t sung with this much je ne sais quoi since Into the Music. One explanation may be that he no longer smokes, another that his last four albums were palate-cleansing genre exercises. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to hear him recycling his favorite melodies and ideas for the purpose of bidding yet another period of transition farewell.

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Jon Troast

First-time fatherhood has brought out the advice giver in this itinerant singer-songwriter. Although three of his latest five songs address his wife (including “Please Look Me in the Eye,” Troast’s most musically soulful statement to date), there’s an unmistakably paternal quality to “Leave Some of the Ends Loose” and “How the World Works.” The former contains Troast’s prescription for not finding oneself “all tied up in knots.” The latter adapts 1 Corinthians 12 to society at large and wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Mister Rogers.

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Mission to Egypt

Album captures the flavor of Francis’ attempt to convert a sultan

1219: The Saint and the Sultan (Berlin Classics), the latest recording by Mehmet Cemal Yeşilçay and his Pera Ensemble, commemorates the 800th anniversary of Francis of Assisi’s journey to Damietta, Egypt, the economic heart of the 13th-century Muslim world, to convert the sultan al-Malik al-Kamil.

The context came with unusual perils. The Fifth Crusade was underway, and Francis was therefore “the enemy,” subject to imprisonment, torture, and execution. He experienced at least one of the first two. He avoided the third but not for lack of trying: At one point, he challenged al-Kamil’s priests to an “ordeal of fire.” (They declined.) In the end, the sultan proved as almost-persuadable as Agrippa had while listening to Paul. And Francis, who had expected either a miracle or martyrdom, was honorably escorted back to the crusaders’ camp. 

To capture in music the flavor of such a dramatic event must have been daunting. Yet Yeşilçay and his ensemble have captured exactly that.

From the crusader hymn “Deus Lo Vult: Pax in Nominee Domini,” which opens Disc 1, to “Surah Al-Hujurat 9/13 & Surah Al-Ahzab 33/56,” which concludes Disc 2, 1219 combines vintage Oriental and Occidental compositions and texts, situating spirited singing and original-language recitations amid period-piece instrumental virtuosity.

Ultimately, what eventuates over the course of 1219’s distinctively Middle Eastern–sounding two hours and 13 minutes feels less like a competition of worldviews (although it was, and remains, that) and more like the mutually respectful dialogue that historians believe actually took place between Francis and al-Kamil once each got over his surprise at the other’s not being as threatening or as antagonistic as he’d expected.

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Krieg Barrie

The past in boxes

Anniversary sets bring back once-youthful voices

In Jack Finney’s short story “I Love Galesburg in the Springtime,” ghosts from a small town’s past—a streetcar, a horse-drawn fire engine, a phone call from the dead—inexplicably “flicker into existence again” as a way of standing athwart progress and yelling, “Slow down!” “Galesburg’s past,” writes Finney, “[was] fighting back.”

Something similar may explain the apparently insatiable appetite for 50th-anniversary box sets.

Among the half-a-century-old recordings being feted during this shopping season, none speak up on behalf of the past more eloquently than the Kinks’ Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (Sanctuary), Bob Dylan’s Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15 (Columbia), or Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is? (Capitol). 

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