James Gordon Keeps Looking For Leonard’s Secret Chord

The folk veteran shares a preview of his upcoming live album Wrinkles And Scars.

James Gordon is still searching for Leonard’s Secret Chord in his new single and live video — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

One of the more curious aspects of the artistic temperament is this: The more you accomplish, the more you strive for. Look no further than Gordon, who has released a whopping 42 albums and successes in multiple other avenues of creative and civic life. Even so, he hasn’t stopped seeking Leonard’s Secret Chord — a metaphor for the elusiveness of the proverbial muse.

And yes, that title is indeed a Leonard Cohen reference. Gordon wrote his song after watching a documentary on the omnipresent Hallelujah, Cohen’s 1984 recording that has been covered by countless artists and become a staple of film and TV. “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.”

Photo by Trina Koster.

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 prolific Gordon absolutely fits that description. As a founding member of folk trio Tamarack from 1978 to 2000 — and subsequently as a solo artist — he’s made a shelf full of albums while touring extensively across the globe. He’s composed for symphony orchestras, musical theatre and dance troupes, written film scores, and served as a songwriter-in-residence on CBC Radio for over a decade. As a producer, he’s credited on albums by numerous Canadian folk artists, and his mentorship programs have spurred the careers of countless youth and adult songwriters alike. Then there are his accomplishments as a published author, playwright, theatrical director, podcast host and even a two-term city councillor in his native Guelph.

Photo by Trina Koster.

The latest jewel in his crown is Wrinkles And Scars, a forthcoming live album which includes Leonard’s Secret Chord. Recorded at Guelph’s River Run Centre in January, the performance finds Gordon backed by his Exceptional Ensemble: Ian Bell, Randall Coryell, Anne Lindsay, Katherine Wheatley and David Woodhead. The album’s 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.”

Watch the video for Leonard’s Secret Chord above, hear more from James Gordon below, and find him at his website and Twitter.


Photo by Trina Koster.