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This Album Changed My Life: Dan Baker on ‘Songs Of Leonard Cohen’

29 July 2021 | 10:42 am | Mallory Arbour

To get to know North Queensland’s Dan Baker a little better, we asked him to tell us about an album that changed his life - 'Songs of Leonard Cohen'.

Known for his deeply meaningful brand of folk-roots that emanates with lyrical sincerity and instrumental prowess, North Queensland’s Dan Baker is set to release his new EP, From Corners Quiet on July 30. The five-track project weaves empathetically between loss and longing, promise and forgiveness, and features the leading single Take This Rose, our Song of the Day on May 7.

Dan has been successfully navigating the music scene since 2015, having supported touring acts including the likes of C.W. Stoneking, The Whitlams, Tia Gostelow and Greta Stanley, as well as playing multiple festivals around Australia including The Milk Factory (Brisbane), Neck of the Woods, Townsville Cultural Festival and Palm Creek Folk Festival. In 2019, he received the Australian Roots Music Award for ‘Best Song’ with Like A Robin and earned a place as a finalist for the 2020 Billy Thorpe Scholarship.

To get to know Dan a little better, we asked him to tell us about an album that changed his life.

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Dan Baker on Songs Of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen:

While perhaps an obvious choice, I simply cannot speak to the impact of music on my life without addressing Leonard Cohen. I do not possess a memory of a time before knowing his work – my understanding is that his records were played to me while in the womb. I wonder of the impact those vibrations would impart on a growing child.

Experiencing a somewhat solitary upbringing, I learned many of life’s lessons from my favourite songwriters prior to my own experience. Of these, I’m grateful for little more than what I’ve been able to glean from Leonard’s music. While I would suggest that our poetic voices are quite different, he did help me to find mine, and many of his common literary devices and themes have influenced my work and life more broadly. For me, the most salient of these being acceptance, humility, dignity, mercy, balancing honesty with embellishment, a yearning for deep human connection, power and futility, appealing to song (the muse) itself, pain as a gatekeeper to grace and beauty, and offering solace within the universal struggle. An attempt is made towards all of these within From Corners Quiet.

While these themes are very much consistent throughout Leonard’s work in different forms, as in the line in the little-known song “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but…”, I feel they are so beautifully introduced in Songs Of Leonard Cohen. My copy features additional songs, Store Room and Blessed Is The Memory, with the bold reverse-side artwork of a resolute and powerful Joan Of Ark symbol, tethered and engulfed in flames (another of his vital and persistent ideas). My personal standouts in the age of singles are Winter Lady, So Long Marianne and Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. Suzanne though is unrivaled in complete perfection.

The close-mic vocal recording and relatively stark production encourages my sense of a personal relationship with him. I feel the production quality and arrangements of his work are so important to effectively carry his message; their evolution overtime to incorporate more elements and compliment his changing voice is ingenious. I also feel that his aptitude as a composer of melody and harmonic structures is often overshadowed by the depth of his poetry.  

The popularity of his work is a source of hope for our reverence of the amount of thought, time, care, dedication and sacrifice that is required to conjure this level of art. Art indifferent to time. I love the man, and we are all better for his contributions to music, visual art, novels and poetry.    

For more of our This Album Changed My Life series, go here.
Keep up to date with Dan Baker on his Facebook page here.

Image: Supplied