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Hallelujah: Ensemble salutes Leonard Cohen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

By John Benson

Adam Mamula admits he was never one for singing.

A drummer since age 10, the Pittsburgh-area native said that changed when he first heard the music of Leonard Cohen. Previously a member of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra and rock band The Zou, Mamula said he had learned of the Canadian musician, poet and singer-songwriter in a typical fashion — through Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah.”

“I always knew Cohen was a great singer, but it wasn’t until I borrowed one of his CDs that I was struck by the absurdity of his voice,” said Mamula, a 1999 YSU graduate. “The more I listened to it, the more it reminded me of Tom Waits. I thought this guy has some great lyricism. And I’m not really a songwriter myself, but these are kinds of songs I can relate to. That’s when I thought I could sing and play piano on these songs.”

Despite the fact he had never sang or played piano publicly, Mamula started Leonard Cohen Ensemble One in 2005 when he was attending Youngstown State University. The tribute act, which last played in Youngs-town in 2008, will reassemble for a Dec. 28 show at the Lemon Grove. Joining Mamula on stage will be Red Wanting Blue drummer Dean Anshutz and vocalist-pianist Garnette Lagrito, who is also his fiancee.

This leads us to Mamula’s other project, which is based around the music of Lagrito. The two met last year while working as musicians on a cruise ship in Australia. Now they’ve formed The Garnette Trio. That act, which also includes bassist Tim Wilderoder, plays its live debut Wednesday at Cedars.

“Garnette is really influenced by Latin pop, pop and hip-hop,” Mamula said. “She has two albums of material. We’re basically taking the albums that she’s recorded and we’re starting a new thing.”

Her originals include the upbeat “Dance With Me” and laid-back “Sweet Patience.” The threesome also will be covering Bill Withers’ “Just the Two of Us,” Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.”

Speaking of covers and going back to the topic of Cohen, his version of “Hallelujah” recently was rewritten by Adam Sandler for the nationally televised “12.12.12.” fundraiser. His raunchy song wasn’t well received by everyone.

“It probably bothers me more than it bothers Leonard Cohen,” Mamula said. “I just think Leonard Cohen slaved over that song for 10 years, and he devoted so much time into this masterpiece, and Adam Sandler, who is to me this talented hack, has no business going up and doing that.”

So just to clarify, at the Leonard Cohen Ensemble One show, Mamula will be performing Cohen’s, not Sandler’s, version of “Hallelujah?”

“Correct,” he said, laughing.