“Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

Another day, another discovered “Hallelujah” cover. Hearing Brandi Carlise’s version for the first time today led to me seek out a compiled list of its best versions; little did I know this was a timely search. The first performance of the familiar, timeless ballad turned 30 last month.

 I think the first version I ever heard was Jeff Buckley’s. The iconic one. The most broken one, with the crying guitar. It is sadder than the John Cale version that perhaps is considered the standard beyond Leonard Cohen’s initial creation, even though I agree that the uninitiated listener might assume the song is Buckley’s own. He is in it. He is it.
Interesting with how many versions there are, this song retains mystery, in its haunting structure and veiled innuendo. Among covers, it is one of the most (obviously) common to tackle,but it is also a challenge. This song isn’t easy to sing, especially at as slow a tempo as most wind up choosing, and how do you make someone hear the same story and make it sound like new?

 

One could argue the world doesn’t need more covers of the same song, but I would counter that with the importance of the capacity to adapt and authenticate. Six years ago, I felt differently. But here, after I’ve taken time to explore and understand my own creative impulses, I see why you would want to honor the work you are inspired by, and pour yourself into it. The best of the best make it work, by the choices they make – an arpeggio here, a breath or gasp there. Acoustic or full band, head voice or soft whispers on the high notes? Choices large and small, in music as in life, make all the difference to success of the whole. Take Brandi’s version – completely her own, in her own strong and emotive style. Her voice soars past the octave effortlessly, and fully. The feminine take is not to be ignored. Not to mention the fact I’m a sucker for brilliant singer-songwriters playing with symphonies. Is there a more glorious, holy sound in the world than peaking strings and subtle woodwinds backing up a familiar melody?

The minor fall, and the major lift.

“So maybe there’s a god above
But all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.

It’s not a cry that you hear at night,
it’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

~Hallelujah
Leonard Cohen, Various Positions
Brandi Carlise,Live at Benaroya Hall
Jeff Buckley, Grace
etc.