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We Were Dreamers

We Were Dreamers

Words by Elsa Hill
A month ago

Sharon Robinson is best known as co-writer, co-producer and backing singer for Leonard Cohen but her songs have been covered by numerous artists including Rufus Wainwright, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack and The Pointer Sisters amongst others. 

The collaboration between Cohen and Robinson began 35 years ago, when Cohen was looking for a backing singer on the “Field Commander Cohen” tour in 1979.  At the time Robinson was performing as a singer and dancer with Ann-Margret’s show in Las Vegas.  She was a classically trained pianist (having studied at the California Institute of the Arts) with a serious interest in R&B and soul and was seeking a life as a songwriter.  She liked some of Cohen’s songs but knew little of the man.  At the audition the connection was instant.  

The tour was a great success, and a live album Field Commander Cohen (recorded at  Hammersmith Odeon and the Brighton Dome) was subsequently released in 2000 on which Robinson and Cohen sing a duet “Why Don’t You Try”.  The following year (1980) they co-wrote a first song for which he offered the lyrics and she supplied the melody.  Then came “Everybody Knows”, which earned her a co-writing credit on the album “I’m Your Man” released in 1988.  By then Robinson had won a Grammy as a contributor to the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop, where her song “New Attitude” was sung by Patti LaBelle

When Cohen released Ten New Songs in 2001, his first album for several years, Robinson had a co-writing credit on every track.  The album was a critical and commercial success and opened up new audiences.  Reviews suggested Robinson’s impact on more soulful songs like “In My Secret Life” and “Alexandra Leaving”.  One critic thought Cohen’s darker vocal now shone with “a peculiar optimism” and Cohen himself has hinted that the album coincided with a change, the dissolution of a lifetime’s “relentless depression”. 

There was a further Cohen album Dear Heather in 2004 for which Robinson contributed three songs recorded during the Ten New Songs sessions.  And then, after releasing her debut solo album Everybody Knows in 2008, she joined Cohen along with a number of other performers from the “Field Commander Cohen” period for a series of world tours undertaken by Cohen to repair his personal finances.  Her follow up solo album Caffeine was released in 2015 on which the song “Lucky” is a co-write with Cohen.  Both albums are available on our Freeworld imprint.

The collaboration with Cohen has offered Robinson exposure to a different audience, and for him she was far more than a backing singer.  According to Cohen, it offered “the rare privilege of a deep friendship with a musician, singer and composer of the highest rank”.   

Cohen passed away in November 2016 and Robinson had been working on a multi-media show about her work with Cohen, using songs, projected images, and stories which had been booked around the US in early 2020.  She is hoping to re-schedule in 2022 including some dates in Europe.  Meanwhile, enjoy the new album, a songwriter’s jaunt back in time.

With thanks to Philippe Sands

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