The personal articles refer to Leonard and his mother, who died before Recent Songs was released: "When he played her his last album Death of a Ladies' Man, she had asked why he didn’t make songs like the ones they used to sing together around the house, many of these being old Russian and Jewish songs, whose sentimental melodies were often played on violin. So Leonard did." (from Sylvie Simmons' biography)
Yes, I think so too. It's my second favorite Leonard, behind only Old Ideas. But even in second place, it makes for a listening experience I can't get anywhere else, and that to my mind is one of the best things you can say about an album.