NY singer Richard McGraw reimagines Leonard Cohen's 'Chelsea Hotel #2'

It’s an odd sort of homage, but it works: New York singer and songwriter Richard McGraw has reworked Leonard Cohen’s shattering “Chelsea Hotel #2” into “Balmville Motel,” named for a fleabag motel in McGraw’s hometown of Newburgh, N.Y.

He keeps Cohen’s tune, but rewrites the lyrics — about an affair with Janis Joplin in the original — to reflect on an episode of his own heartache.

Despite the familiar melody, the vibe is totally different: Cohen’s song recalls a certain tawdry elegance, an insular, sensual, carnal respite during a tumultuous time, while McGraw’s version captures a small-town air of youthfully misdirected lust and despair that blossomed, in retrospect, for the wrong reasons.

“It would take me five years to complete,” says McGraw, who began his own version in 2002. “I gave up on it for a year or two because it was such a daunting task. ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ is a concise masterpiece. I wasn’t trying to re-write the perfect song, nor was I trying to fill his shoes, but I had to at least be driving towards his ball park, or be somewhere near his neighborhood, and that was no easy task. My re-write turned out more long winded, and I used the chorus ideas from his original version of ‘Chelsea Hotel’”

The song is on McGraw’s 2009 release, “Bury the Dead.”

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Balmville Motel mp3

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