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Bluesy cover of Leonard Cohen classic highlights eclectic new album from Australia's Joanna Melas


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It takes a certain amount of courage to cover a Leonard Cohen song. Doing it successfully is another matter. However, Australian singer Joanna Melas manages to accomplish the nearly impossible, offering a rendition of Cohen's timeless “First We Take Manhattan" that can actually stand on its own. Cohen's original version is a masterpiece of cinematic moodiness and grim delivery; its icy keyboards reflected the glacial temperatures of Cohen's detached vocal work. Melas thankfully takes a radically different approach, transforming its gloomy seriousness into sultry blues.

Cohen is among the number of iconic artists whose work Melas repurposes on her latest album, A Natural Selection. Melas unites the old with new compositions of her own, always with the same unpredictable vision. For example, Frankie Valli's 1967 smash “Can't Take My Eyes Off You" is given a sprightly reggae backbeat. From the sweltering funk of “Break in the Weather" to the swooning balladry of “The Look of Love," Melas covers a vast territory of styles with effortless charm.

Influenced by some of pop music's greatest vocalists including the late Karen Carpenter, Barbara Streisand, and Julie London, Melas began taking formal singing lessons at the age of 20. For her, performing music gives her an exhilarating emotional charge. “When I sing I embrace my audience, making a song become a mood and a message for them. I can creatively express passion with my singing and deliver a song directly from my heart making the emotions real," Melas explained. “I love to see how people are affected when I sing. As a singer I've learned that with this gift I have the ability to change people's moods and attitudes by what I sing and how I sing it. That's an awesome and privileged position to be in, and I assume that role with love and great respect."

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