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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Gordon Lightfoot

Complete Greatest Hits

Review by Gary Hill

When I saw that Gordon Lightfoot was coming to town it took me back to my childhood. I used to love Lightfoot’s music back in the day and had several LP’s of his. After my last turntable died a bunch of years back I got rid of most of my vinyl – after all, I had nothing to play it on. Lightfoot was one artist that I hadn’t really heard anything about since then, until now.

Well, I decided to pick up this disc to get ready for the show, and it’s really reminded me of why I liked Gordon Lightfoot in the first place. Sure, I remembered “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” as it was the song that drew me to him in the first place. What I didn’t remember was how many other great songs he had. With tracks like “Sundown,” “If You Could Read My Mind” and “Carefree Highway” it’s easy to think of Lightfoot as a hit machine – and in some ways he has been. But he’s a lot more than that.

Gordon Lightfoot is a folk music powerhouse. Whereas a lot of other folk musicians have voices that need a lot of warming up to in order to appreciate, Lightfoot’s voice has always been strong and accessible. He’s easy to listen to. His lyrics are often poetry and there’s enough variety in his music to keep it from sounding all the same. Whether it’s his more country music inspired sounds, the more psychedelic textured or something in between it all feels relevant and genuine. Gordon Lightfoot is a true artist and this is a fine collection of his music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Early Morning Rain
Bob Dylan meets gospel on this early Lightfoot number. It’s a bit too down home for my tastes, but does show Lightfoot’s talent.
For Lovin' Me
This is more pure folk with some bluegrass in the mix. While it’s perhaps even more in the “down home” territory the intricate musical arrangement makes this one stronger than the opener. I actually like this one quite a bit.
Go-Go Round
Here Lightfoot gives us something that feels very much like a song we might have gotten from one of the folk groups that were so common in the late 1960’s.
Canadian Railroad Trilogy
I like this a lot. As you might guess it’s got three different segments. It’s very old school folk in nature. Railroad songs are an old tradition in folk music, too. This is quite an interesting musical journey. The music on this becomes quite intricate at times and the vocals become very powerful. 
Pussywillows, Cat-Tails
There’s a powerful and lush string arrangement on this and honestly it’s not musically all that different from something that we might have heard from The Moody Blues or Renaissance. I’d say that this might qualify as progressive rock. It’s a great piece of music that’s mellow, but evocative and beautiful. This is one of the highlights of the set. 
Bitter Green
More pure folk in nature this is a strong cut, but not really a standout. 
If You Could Read My Mind
This pretty number is a 1970’s classic. It’s one that most people reading this review have probably heard. It’s a good tune that really bridged the gap between folk music and soft rock. It still holds up quite well after all these years.
Summer Side of Life
Here is another killer song. It’s not that different from “Go-Go Round” in concept, but the arrangement is more powerful. We get a full band treatment and the choruses are extremely powerful.
Cotton Jenny
Bouncy and fun, this is a rather countrified folk number. It’s another good tune, but perhaps not a standout.
Beautiful
This is a beautiful track, in keeping with its title. Again it’s not necessarily a highlight of the disc, but that’s more about the quality of some of the other stuff here than it is about any kind of deficiency in this. 
Sundown
Another of Lightfoot’s best known cuts, this perhaps feels more like the Eagles’ brand of mellow rock than it does pure folk. It’s still a great song that holds up very well. It’s another standout here.
Carefree Highway
Somehow I always thought the chorus of the song was “Every Highway.” Now I can hear it as what it truly is. Whatever you think the lyrics are, though, this is another highlight of the disc and another pop rock song that holds up really well even 30 plus years later. I’d say that if you are reading this review you’ve probably heard this song.
Rainy Day People
Catchy and tasty, this is a good tune, but not a standout. 
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Now this is the biggie in my book. The powerful arrangement here features an echoey vocal line. Guitars seem to cry out in pain. The lyrics tell a true tale of men fighting for their survival and losing in nautical tragedy.  This thing still packs a musical and emotional punch. It’s actually one of my all time favorite songs by anyone and it still feels fresh today. It’s without question the best track here.
Race Among the Ruins
It would be really hard for any song to stand up proudly after that last killer. This is a mellow rocker with it’s feet firmly planted in folk. It’s a good tune, but definitely a step down. 
Daylight Katy
Pretty and catchy, I like this a lot, but wouldn’t consider it a highlight of the disc mainly because so much of the rest of the album is so strong. The mellow verses on this are extremely potent and poignant, though. 
The Circle is Small
Here’s another pretty and emotionally powerful track. On a different set it would probably be a standout – it’s that good, but with this set of heavy hitters, it’s sort of middle of the road. It’s still an incredibly potent tune, though. 
Baby Step Back
A more rocking tune, this is downright bluesy. Somehow it reminds me a bit of “Sundown,” though. It’s a great number and on a lesser set would be a highlight. It’s got some exceptionally tasty guitar soloing. 
Stay Loose
This is a catchy tune and probably the most mainstream 1970’s pop rock number here. It’s just a bit lackluster and generic in comparison to much of the rest of the set. It could use a bit more character. In many ways this has a rockabilly texture.
Restless
The set is closed with this track that is more traditional in its folk stylings. It’s another that’s good, but not really a standout. Train themes show up on this one, too. It’s also got some rather proggy instrumental moments despite it’s stripped down musical format.
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