John Cale's classic live album, Fragments Of A Rainy Season, featuring many solo versions from his enduring catalogue, plus his brilliant interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" along with previously unreleased outtakes, is being reissued by Double Six/Domino on December 9. The 3 LP triple gatefold version with 8 previously unreleased tracks will be limited to one pressing on heavy weight vinyl with digital download card. Check the complete track listing right here.
Watch Abby Portner's creepy cool new video for Cale's version of Hallelujah following Malcolm Gladwell's discussion of the song from his Revisionist History podcast and the Domino press release below.
Fragments of a Rainy Season is the the first live John Cale album to feature him performing solo and "unplugged" – before that term became a mid-'90s buzzword. In contrast to the jaundiced punk truculence of Sabotage/Live (1979) or Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1986), Fragments gives us Cale at his most melodic and moving, a mellowed and certainly a soberer man in a Yamamoto jacket and a lopsided haircut running through a selection of his prettiest songs.
It's a Cale many of us love deeply, a man alone at a concert-hall Steinway revisiting the pop-rock of 'Paris 1919' and 'A Child's Christmas in Wales', as wistful and whimsical as any '70s singer-songwriter holding court at L.A.'s Troubadour club. It's the Cale who disavowed the spiky nihilism of the Velvets, inspired instead by melodicism of Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.
Cale being Cale, Fragments isn't all rueful tenderness. The deceptively jaunty 'Darling I Need You' is flippantly introduced as a song about "religious awakening in the southern part of the United States", while Elvis' 'Heartbreak Hotel' is no less gothic in the solo version here than it is in the Grand Guignol horror show of the original on Slow Dazzle. 'Guts' is as close as Cale ever came to Lou Reed at his most withering. It's easy to forget that – years before Jeff Buckley and The X-Factor – he was the first artist to recognize the hymnal majesty of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', or that it was his original 1991 reading of the song that popped up on the soundtrack of Shrek.
Revisionist History: Hallelujah by Malcolm Gladwell
One night, Cohen is playing this version at the Beacon Ballroom in New York and the musician John Cale happens to be in the audience. Cale is a legend, used to be in The Velvet Underground, a really pivotal figure in the rock 'n roll avant-garde. He hears this song come out of Cohen's mouth and he's blown away. So he asks Cohen to send him the lyrics. He wants to do a version of it. So Cohen faxes him fifteen pages - who knows what the lyrics actually are at this point! Cale says, that for his version, he took the "cheeky" parts. He ends up using the first two verses of the original combined with three verses from the live performance. And Cale changes some words - most importantly, he changes the theme and brings back the biblical references that Cohen had in the album version.
Cale is really the one who cracks the code of Hallelujah according to Alan Light. This cover version appears on a Leonard Cohen tribute album put together by a French music magazine - it was called "I'm Your Fan"- came out in 1991. Almost nobody bought "I'm Your Fan", except, weirdly, me. I think I found it in a remainder bin in a little record store on Colombia Road in Washington, DC. Another person who bought "I'm Your Fan" was a woman named Janine, who lived in Park Slope in Brooklyn. She was good friends with a young aspiring singer named Jeff Buckley. He used to house sit at her apartment. And one time, when Buckley's there, he happens to see the CD of "I'm Your Fan" - he plays it - he hears John Cale's version of Hallelujah and decides to do his own version of that version. He performs it at a tiny little bar in the East Village called Sin-e where he happens to be heard by an executive at Columbia Records. So Columbia Records ends up signing Buckley and he records his version of Hallelujah for the album 'Grace' which ends up being Buckley's first, and only, studio album. It came out in 1994.
Now I'm guessing that Buckley's version is the one you're most familiar with - it's the famous one, the definitive one. It's not really a cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', it's a cover of John Cale's cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' only with Cale's piano swapped out for a guitar and of course, Buckley swaps out Cale's voice for his own extraordinary voice.
Here's Abby Portner's new video for John Cale's version of Hallelujah...