Famous Blue Raincoat
Private Music, 1986
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/24/2010
Prior to the release of this album in November of ‘86, Jennifer Warnes was most notably known for singing parts in two huge singles; both were duets and both were Oscar winning songs from films. “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker from An Officer And A Gentleman and “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” with Bill Medley from Dirty Dancing were the songs responsible for putting Warnes on the map.
Although she had spent the best part of the ‘70s as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen, the Seattle native had cut some fantastic pop albums but failed to really make her mark in the fickle world of pop music. Maybe a lack of decisive marketing was to blame, but all this changed when Warnes released Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection of Cohen’s songs that she expertly interpreted to wonderful effect. An array of session players was joined by legendary bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and Cohen himself to help Warnes deliver these songs in her own style.
The album kicks off with one of Cohen’s best songs, “First We Take Manhattan,” which, when graced with Vaughan’s stellar guitar work, is hands down the best version of this song. It was also one of two that Warnes covered here from Cohen’s then yet-to-be-released LP, I’m Your Man. The other is a suave reworking of “Ain’t No Cure For Love.” One of Cohen’s most-loved tracks, “Bird On A Wire” (from Songs From A Room), works so well for Warnes that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s one of her originals.
Cohen joins Warnes for a beautifully morbid reading of “Joan Of Arc” (from his third LP Songs Of Love And Hate) that, at almost eight minutes long, serves as the centerpiece of this remarkable album. Also from Songs Of Love And Hate, “Famous Blue Raincoat” was chosen as the title track for this project and it is a definite highlight. Warnes’ rich vocals work wonders for these songs of longing, and as sung from a woman’s point of view, they offer a slightly more intriguing perspective.
“Coming Back To You” from Various Positions is transformed into an almost country ballad that suits Warnes’ voice nicely enough. It’s really the only song here that I’m not crazy about, though, as it comes off a little flat compared to the rest of the material included on the record. “A Singer Must Die” first appeared on Cohen’s underrated LP New Skin For The Old Ceremony, and it fits in well here as Warnes employs a small choir for a gospel-influenced reading of this great song.
“Came So Far For Beauty” from Recent Songs closes out the album with an almost whisper that by this time Warnes had perfected. The only track on this disc not to appear on one of Cohen’s albums is the beautiful “A Song For Bernadette,” which he wrote especially for Warnes. She didn’t let him down either, as she again delivered the goods backed softly by a piano and string section. It’s one of the album’s most touching moments.
Produced by Warnes along with Roscoe Beck, Famous Blue Raincoat remains one of her best albums to date. It also got a much needed re-mastered and expanded reissue in 2007 that gave the album new life and exposure. This release also contains some of the finest covers of Cohen’s songs ever recorded; it’s easily one of the best pop records of the ‘80s.