- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Anjani

Blue Alert

Columbia

Few albums feature the name of their producer prominently on the cover. But then, few artists have the chance to collaborate with a musical legend on their major-label debuts.

Anjani Thomas is one of the lucky few. The cover for her “Blue Alert” has the words “Produced by Leonard Cohen” a full half-size as large as the album’s title. Her label’s marketing team might be forgiven for this bit of crassness, however; without the draw of the celebrated Canadian singer-songwriter, much of her potential audience might never discover her considerable charms.

Anjani, as she bills herself, also happens to be Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend. But one can’t put down the existence of this record solely to nepotism. For one thing, Anjani has put in her time: She has been working with Mr. Cohen since the mid-1980s, providing backup vocals on many of his albums, including 1988’s “I’m Your Man,” arguably his best and certainly one of his more successful records. More importantly, the woman can sing.

Anyone who has heard Leonard Cohen songs like “First We Take Manhattan” or the oft-covered “Hallelujah” knows Anjani’s voice. Or at least, one incarnation of it. Here, she sometimes sounds like an entirely different bird. She’s been working on her voice in the ensuing 20 years, and it shows.

Anjani’s brand of sultry jazz will likely be compared to that of Diana Krall. The Hawaiian-born singer’s voice has something of the dark smokiness of the Canadian’s. The title track sounds a lot like one of Miss Krall’s torch songs, with its slinky piano up front accompanying a deep, yet almost ethereal voice.

But Anjani’s good fortune to be singing the words of Mr. Cohen — a notable poet, he co-wrote every song on this album — gives her an edge. Memorable lines rhyming with “Blue Alert” include “Your lip is cut on the edge of her pleated skirt” and “You even touch yourself, you’re such a flirt.” Anjani’s sophisticated, mature, yet often sweet voice marries perfectly with Mr. Cohen’s worldly, nostalgic lyrics.

Mr. Cohen’s own voice, though literally absent, seems always underneath the surface. The album’s minimalist songs — often accompanied by nothing more than Anjani’s keyboard — are vintage Cohen. (Anjani is a much better vocalist than keyboardist — but her voice is the main attraction here.) “Innermost Door,” in particular, with its limited vocal range, sounds like nothing so much as a Leonard Cohen song.

But just when you wonder if this is merely a Leonard Cohen album sung by a woman, Anjani surprises. Listening to the lyrics of “Crazy to Love You,” one first thinks the song would be better sung by the gravelly voiced Canadian: “I had to go crazy to love you / Had to go down to the pit / Had to do time in the tower / Now I’m too tired to quit.” But then Anjani makes the song her own; the listener is left wondering how this beautiful, sugary-voiced woman can feel these words so acutely.

The mysterious, slightly sinister sound of “No One After You” was also made for Anjani’s breathy voice. “I’ve lived in many cities / From Paris to LA / I’ve known rags and riches / I’m a regular cliche,” she sings with a smirk.

Jennifer Warner helped popularize Leonard Cohen’s music with her 1987 tribute album, “Famous Blue Raincoat.” With Anjani, Mr. Cohen now has another emissary worthy of his immense talents.

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