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Hallelujah: Regional troupe interprets 50 years of Leonard Cohen

Paul Emery brings his troupe’s tribute to Canadian musician Leonard Cohen to the Crest Theatre on Saturday, April 9.
Paul Emery brings his troupe’s tribute to Canadian musician Leonard Cohen to the Crest Theatre on Saturday, April 9. Peter Wilson World

The man behind the potent tribute to Canadian musician-poet-novelist Leonard Cohen – one of the most compelling and durable artists of the past half-century – surfaced on the Sacramento music scene during the 1960s as co-founder of the Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band.

“It was a kind of derivative band of 1920s street music,” said Paul Emery, 71. “I played guitar, mandolin, banjo. We had a radio show on KZAP, ‘The Brother Lee Love Survival Revival Hour With the Greater Carmichael Traveling Street Band and Sanctified Singers.’ It was a very odd program.”

Emery moved to Nevada City in 1976. He is now a veteran music promoter, current news director at KVMR, and former member of Backwoods Jazz and the Foothill Flyers. In 2011, he assembled area musicians to perform the folk-based, genre-bending works of the gothic baritone Cohen. The current 14-member troupe will perform Saturday, April 9, at the Crest Theatre.

Q: What is your connection to Leonard Cohen’s music?

A: Cohen’s music has been around since the mid-’60s and I (covered) the songs back then. But what really got me into it this time around was seeing his shows when he started touring again in 2007 or 2008. I went to three shows. I started thinking I’d like to put something together that used that instrumentation and style up here in Nevada City.

I took about six months to research the music and all different arrangements of all different songs. I listened to arrangements by people like R.E.M. and Jennifer Warnes and kept moving songs around. Once I had it the way I wanted it, I went out looking for musicians. We look at it more like a theater piece than just playing a bunch of songs.

Q: How has the show evolved since 2011?

A: It hasn’t changed much at all. We are trying to capture the sound and spirit of his band that he was touring with a couple of years ago, with guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, woodwinds and strings; three-piece backup vocals; and a variety of lead singers. The first set is all acoustic, (with) different players in the band coming up and singing songs with just acoustic instruments. The second set is the full band and all the different singers.

Q: Cohen still is making music. How do you describe his sound to the uninitiated?

A: His music is very modern. But it’s also tied very much into mysticism. Leonard, being Jewish, uses lots of Old Testament references in his music. He also is into Buddhism. Being primarily a poet, his songs have this poetic beauty and these amazing melodies that will linger with you.

Q: What would you like the audience to take away from this show?

A: It’s a very sweet emotional experience. It’s not depressing or gloomy. I guess just give people an approximation of the totality of his musical career is just fine with me.

A Thousand Kisses Deep: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento

Cost: $25-$35

Information: www.crestsacramento.com

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