For anyone growing up in the late-'60s, the female voice most identified with Leonard Cohen songs probably is Judy Collins, whose Elektra recordings of such eloquent works as "Suzanne" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" helped establish Cohen as one of our most gifted songwriters.
For many discerning listeners whose musical tastes were formed in the late-'80s, however, the first female voice that comes to mind regarding Cohen might well be Jennifer Warnes, whose "Famous Blue Raincoat" album radiated with adventurous and sophisticated elements.
Featuring an exquisite corps of musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford, Fred Tackett and Van Dyke Parks on various tracks, "Raincoat" reached only No. 72 on the charts in 1987, but it was widely hailed by critics and remains prized by many Cohen enthusiasts.
Warnes' album has just been reissued by Shout! Factory Records in a 20th anniversary edition that includes four bonus tracks. A highlight is "Song of Bernadette," a Warnes-Cohen composition that also has been recorded by, among others, Judy Collins.
Coincidentally, Collins also figures indirectly in another noteworthy new release: a collection of early "demo" recordings by Stephen Stills.
"Famous Blue Raincoat: 20th Anniversary Edition"
The back story: Warnes, a Seattle native who grew up in Orange County, had a country and pop hit in "Right Time of the Night" in 1977 and followed that up in the '80s with a series of movie-related hits, including a duet with Joe Cocker on "Up Where We Belong" and another with Bill Medley on "(I've Had) The Time of My Life."
While her lovely, pure voice was evident in those records, Warnes was widely seen as simply a capable mainstream pop figure until "Raincoat," on which she connected with far greater intimacy and artistic depth. It's a difference in perception that Cohen noted at the time.
"One of the nice things about [this success] is that Jennifer is acknowledged as a musician on a high level," Cohen told The Times in 1987. "I think people have thought of her as a canary up to this point."
The music: Warnes revisits some songs Collins recorded for Elektra on "Raincoat," but she mainly reaches elsewhere in the Cohen songbook.
There is such a gripping, even epic feel to the album's first four tracks -- "First We Take Manhattan," "Bird on the Wire," "Famous Blue Raincoat" and "Joan of Arc" -- that you may find yourself pausing after each to fully absorb it before moving on. Things get a bit lighter on the country-ish "Ain't No Cure for Love," but quickly turn more introspective and personal again on "Coming Back to You" and "Song of Bernadette."
The arrangements throughout are exceptionally confident and effective, including one song ("A Singer Must Die") on which Warnes is backed by just other singers.
The bonus material includes a previously unreleased live version of "Joan of Arc" from 1992. A superbly tasteful CD.
"Just Roll Tape: April 26, 1968"
The back story: Stills' career with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young has been so memorable that he probably has no regrets, but it's still tempting when listening to these demos to wonder what might have been if Stills had remained a solo singer-songwriter after leaving Buffalo Springfield in 1968.
Stills, who wrote Springfield's only Top 10 hit, the socially charged "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)," was no doubt pondering his future the night in 1968 that he sat in on a Judy Collins recording session in New York.
When the session ended, Stills paid the engineer to stick around so Stills could put some of his new songs on tape.
Among the tunes he played that night: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Change Partners" and "Helplessly Hoping" -- songs that would have been an impressive foundation for any solo work.
Yet Stills ended up joining Crosby, Stills & Nash, and used "Blue Eyes" and "Hoping" on the trio's 1969 debut album. These demo tracks, which were lost until recently, are understandably raw and informal, but there's a youthful promise to them that is enchanting. Stills was just 23 on that April night.
Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD reissues and other historical pop music items.