Home Feature James Gordon goes on a hunt for harmony on ‘Leonard’s Secret Chord’

James Gordon goes on a hunt for harmony on ‘Leonard’s Secret Chord’

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One of the more curious aspects of the artistic temperament is that the more you accomplish, the more you strive for. Case in point: Canadian folk singer James Gordon, who, after a whopping 42 albums and successes in multiple other avenues of creative and civic life, is still looking for “Leonard’s Secret Chord” — which is not only a metaphor for the elusiveness of the proverbial muse, but the title of his new single to boot.

And yes, that title is indeed a Leonard Cohen reference. Gordon wrote his song after watching a documentary on the omnipresent “Hallelujah,” which Cohen recorded in 1984 and which later became a staple of films, TV shows and the repertoires of other artists.

“Looking at his great body of work, I believe Cohen was always searching for meaning, for truth,” James said. “Looking for a key to solve the mystery of the universe. I think all creatives share that quest.”

A more up-tempo cousin to the Cohen track, “Leonard’s Secret Chord” finds James remarking on the intellectual and spiritual wanderlust of the driven—a group he feels we all fall into at one time or another.

The ridiculously prolific James absolutely fits that description. As a founding member of folk trio Tamarack, with whom he performed from 1978 to 2000, and subsequently as a solo artist, he’s made enough albums to fill a decent-sized independent record shop while touring extensively across the globe. He’s composed for symphony orchestras and musical theatre and dance troupes, written film scores, and served as a songwriter-in-residence on CBC radio for over a decade. As a record producer, he’s credited on CDs by numerous Canadian folk artists, and his mentorship programs have spurred the careers of countless youth and adult songwriters alike. That’s not to mention his accomplishments as a published author, playwright, theatrical director, podcast host and even a two-term city councillor in his native Guelph.

Yep — textbook underachiever.

The latest jewel in his crown is Wrinkles and Scars, a forthcoming live album of which “Leonard’s Secret Chord” is but one facet. Recorded at Guelph’s River Run Centre in January 2024, the performance finds James backed by his “Exceptional Ensemble” of Ian Bell, Randall Coryell, Anne Lindsay, Katherine Wheatley and David Woodhead. The 14 songs run the gamut from personal musings on aging and loneliness to some of the more politically charged material for which James is known—including musical protestations against climate change, religious fundamentalism and the Rwandan genocide.

“I try to stay optimistic despite our current challenges,” he said. “As an activist, I want to hold onto hope, otherwise there’s no point investing energy into ‘the cause.’ That often feels pretty unrealistic in my moments of despair.”

Ah, but therein hangs the eternal quest for that secret chord of harmony and fulfillment. Thanks for still fighting the good fight, James. And hallelujah.

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