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Sound Check

9/24/2014

Columbia Records Leonard Cohen Popular Problems coverLeonard Cohen

“Popular Problems”

Columbia

No bones: “Popular Problems” only exists because Leonard Cohen is broke. The nearly 80-year-old Cohen was set to enjoy his retirement after the release of 2004’s “Dear Heather,” but that was before his former manager swindled him out of nearly 9 million dollars. However, if you think that means “Popular Problems” is an act of desperation, you’re sorely mistaken. If anything, Cohen sounds reinvigorated by being forced back into the studio and on the road. Opening track “Slow” is as good as anything Cohen’s released in the past two decades and immediately quells any doubts about the the strength of his voice or his ability to still pen a quality song. “Samson in New Orleans” is a plaintive ballad that will draw inevitable comparisons to “Hallelujah,” Cohen’s most recognizable song. It’s possible that Cohen would much prefer to be sitting on a beach somewhere right now. But since he can’t do that, he’s thankfully decided to make the best album he could. CV

Tim McGrawTim McGraw

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“Sundown Heaven Town”

Big Machine

McGraw’s country music bonafides are unquestionable. Seemingly everything he releases turns to gold at this point, so it would be completely understandable (if not completely forgivable) if he’d decided to stamp out another by-the-numbers country album without much effort or thought behind it. But “Sundown Heaven Town” shows McGraw actually branching out a little bit and trying some new sounds on for size. It’s a luxury that McGraw can be afforded by his immense success, but it’s also an experiment that turns out pretty well, all things considered. “City Lights” is about as traditional as McGraw has gotten, and it’s a high point on the album. A couple tracks later, McGraw scores again with “Dust,” which is about as close to the heavily produced bro-country sound as McGraw is comfortable getting. The album doesn’t always work (“Lookin’ for That Girl” is flat and dumb), but McGraw’s passion for tinkering with his sound is a positive experience. CV

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