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Patricia O’Callaghan: Matador

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The title of this superb collection of Leonard Cohen gems is borrowed from a long-shuttered Toronto tavern where, though no liquor was served, the cognoscenti would gather after hours for one last dance, one final chance for wee-hours companionship. Cohen wrote “Closing Time” about the Matador. O’Callaghan, arguably Canada’s most gifted jazz-cabaret hybrid, doesn’t include the song among her nine selections, but is decidedly democratic in her choices, exploring almost the entire spectrum of Cohen’s songwriting and recording career.

Cohen has always insisted, quite rightly, that his lyrics are best presented in sparer settings. His own producers (Phil Spector principal among them) sometimes ignored Cohen’s counsel, and the songs invariably suffered. O’Callaghan is respectful of Cohen’s view-particularly on an angelic, bilingual reading of “Suzanne,” a gently chilled “Alexander’s Leaving” and a craftily propulsive interpretation of the death tally “Who by Fire?”-but also appreciates when best to explore a bolder, more complex palette. “Everybody Knows,” for example, steadily builds in intensity until O’Callaghan is almost engulfed, brilliantly suggesting a steadily encroaching crowd. And “Dance Me to the End of Love,” performed à deux with Mike Ross and ushered in on a single, plaintive flute, becomes a dizzying celebration of unbridled passion. Four bonus tracks add Cohen songs from previous O’Callaghan albums, including what is quite possibly the most exquisite “Hallelujah” ever recorded.

Originally Published