An Evening with Andrea Ramolowww.andrearamolo.com/
November 7, 2018 marked the second anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death, and the passage of time has only added to the significance of his words and music. Cohen’s legacy will be celebrated that day with the release of Andrea Ramolo’s Homage, a 10-song collection of some of Cohen’s best-loved works interpreted by the acclaimed Toronto singer/songwriter and produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies.
Although—like virtually all songwriters—Ramolo has long been a passionate Cohen devotee, the idea to make Homage developed gradually in the wake of a stunning rendition of “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” she performed with The Wooden Sky’s Gavin Gardiner at a Last Waltz tribute concert staged in Montreal days after Cohen’s passing. Ramolo made the song a staple of her live repertoire from then on, and seemingly constant requests for a recording of her rendition eventually expanded to what ultimately became Homage.
Ramolo turned to Timmins—who also produced her 2017 Polaris Prize long-listed NUDA—to oversee the recording, which features Ramolo on baritone guitar and vocals, Tom Juhas on lead guitar, Derek Giberson on keyboards, David Goncalves Gouveia on drums, and special guest Sahra Featherstone on harp. In all, Homage has been a true labour of love for Ramolo, underscored by it being a fully independent release.
In addition to being a lifelong Cohen fan, Andrea had worked briefly alongside Leonard’s son Adam for a show with him and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, during which she had the honour of staying in the Cohen family home in Montreal. It all inspired her process of selecting the songs for the album. “I spent two months listening in depth to every single album of Leonard’s from top to bottom. I wasn’t as leery about ruling out the famous songs as I was about making sure I didn’t repeat the same ‘colours.’ I included my personal favourites, like ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ and ‘Suzanne,’ but I wanted to make sure the others I chose were a mix of newer and older songs to best represent his massive catalogue.”
It has been said that Cohen’s songs truly take flight when sung by others, and that argument can certainly be made with Homage. The blending of Ramolo’s mesmerizing vocals within delicate musical settings creates a haunting atmosphere unique to other Cohen tributes. Like Timmins’ own revered work with Cowboy Junkies, restraint is the key to the overall sound, offering stunning beauty and brooding tension in equal measure.
“Homage was the first time I’ve gone this deep into someone else’s material, so that presented a challenge in itself because you want to ensure that you are honouring the original artist while at the same time making the songs your own” Ramolo says. “I tried to focus on aspects of the songs that spoke to me, while also infusing my own life and character into them. As a female artist, there was something exciting about covering songs by a very powerful, iconic man, especially when time-travelling through the older tunes. During the process I often wondered if Leonard had been a woman, would the world still have come to know the songs in the same way?”
Indeed, part of Cohen’s poetic genius has always been a celebration of female empowerment, and Andrea admits she wore a pantsuit on Homage’s throwback-inspired cover to symbolize this. At the same time Ramolo didn’t shy away from some of his later, more politically charged songs such as “The Future” and “Everybody Knows.” Ramolo explains that she wanted to include a message that speaks to our times, beyond the themes of love and all that surrounds it.
“I chose ‘The Future’ specifically because of its apocalyptic theme and how it expresses the complete loss of our private lives, private spaces, and structure. Our modern world thrives on invasiveness and public approval. It proves that Cohen was prophetic in this regard, foreshadowing the world as we now know it back in the ‘90s. I love how raw and crass it is at certain points—I’m pretty sure I’d never write a song with the words ‘anal sex’ in it—but there is something in interpreting someone else’s songs that gifts you with this extra sense of freedom and boldness.”
Ramolo, in fact, captured a lot of that spirit on NUDA, so in some ways Homage is a natural progression. Longtime fans of Ramolo will also acknowledge that she has given all she has to her work since she first began performing and recording in her early twenties. After spending over three years from 2008 to 2011 living in a van and touring all parts of Canada in support of her first two solo albums, Ramolo teamed up with Cindy Doire to form the duo Scarlett Jane whose two albums released under Warner Music Canada were hailed by critics coast to coast and recognized with multiple Canadian Folk Music Award nominations. Ramolo was also nominated for a CFMA award on her own in 2011.
Following that, Ramolo contributed to projects by Lee Harvey Osmond (where she crossed paths with Timmins), leading to the creation of NUDA, which she describes now as a “huge growth spurt, both spiritually and artistically.” But above all, she says the experience of making that album instilled a sense of confidence and willingness to experiment that she had never felt before, and Homage stands as an important next step in her journey.