James Gordon Goes On A Hunt For Harmony In “Leonard’s Secret Chord” From New Album ‘Wrinkles and Scars’

Article Contributed by Eric Alper | Published on Saturday, March 16, 2024

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 legend 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 and the repertoires of other artists.

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

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

Painters and poets, philosophers and kings

Looking to the cosmos for the same things

Rebels and angels, singers and dancers

Everybody’s out there looking for answers

We’re all looking for, we’re all looking for

Leonard’s secret chord

The ridiculously prolific Gordon 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, the 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 Gordon 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 Gordon is known—including musical protestations against climate change, religious fundamentalism and the Rwandan genocide.

“I try to stay optimistic despite our current challenges,” he says. “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.