This two-disc retrospective traces the Canadian bard's musical maturity from poet and novelist who sang a little to multidimensional artist whose oracular vocals and increasingly rich arrangements are every bit as compelling as his verse. Even when Cohen came to prominence through the 1960s songcraft of "Suzanne" and "Bird on a Wire," the "folksinger" tag never really fit. Later highlights ranging from the deadpan drollery of "Tower of Song" and "Everybody Knows" to the apocalyptic anthemry of "First We Take Manhattan" and "Democracy" suggest that other labels might be more appropriate: cabaret surrealist, spiritual gadfly, sensual prophet, agent provocateur. Cohen chose the selections, drawing more than half of the 31 tracks from three landmark albums--his 1967 debut Songs of Leonard Cohen
, 1988's I'm Your Man
, and 1992's The Future
--along with four from 2001's Ten New Songs
. The collection justifies its title as deep as it goes, though it's a shame that Cohen's commercial profile couldn't justify the more elaborate box set his artistry warrants (one that would at least include lyrics and musician credits). Those who sample the consistently inspired music here might come to the conclusion that everything Cohen records is essential. --Don McLeese
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