With his warm voice, his easy melody, and his keen eye, Gordon Lightfoot remains both familiar and fresh in his fourth decade as Canada's own bard.
The 59-year-old singer-songwriter's performance Friday at the Garde Arts Centre in New London - his first visit to the great old whaling city - had a timeless quality. He could as easily have sung these songs of sailors and ships, fish and loons - and in as much the same manner - 10 or 100 years ago.
Take "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Lightfoot's 1970s update of the waltz-time sea chanty. More than 20 years after the song became an international smash, the image remains sharp, the performance poignant - even after Lightfoot winks that the ill-fated vessel was headed for Toledo, Ohio, and not Cleveland, which proved a better fit for the lyric.
More recent material, as in the several songs he sang from his new collection, "A Painter Passing Through", went down just as smooth. What's not to like about lines like "Ringneck loon, he knows best/He's a loon and he don't care less," especially as delivered in the sprightly "Ringneck Loon"?
Lightfoot's friendly voice led a road-tested band featuring some fine picking by versatile guitarist Terry Clements and a melodic bass by Rick Haynes.
Lightfoot himself is no slouch as an instrumentalist. Alternating between six and 12-string guitars, he fashioned delicate fingerpicks, sometimes in tandem with Clements, on several songs.
The band gelled in a variety of styles, from the slinky "Sundown" to the new "Boathouse", which rocked, a little. "Big Blue" was a minor-key melodrama; the new "Drifters" boasted a Beach Boys melody.
Lightfoot, who at this point looks like a kinder, gentler Clint Eastwood, proved a congenial host throughout the evening.
At one point, he offered a lesson in loons - "I checked it oot," he said, perhaps a bit gratuitously. At another, he apologized that the blue whale of "Big Blue" lived in the Pacific Ocean, and not nearby waters. Flashing the thumbs-up after several numbers was another friendly touch.
It's that easygoing approach that makes Lightfoot the singer such a compelling storyteller, that makes songs like "I Used to be a Country Singer" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" so entertaining.
by Matthew Hay Brown - Hartford Courant Staff Writer