Attention songwriters, screenwriters, novelists and poets! Put away your Strunk and White or Harbrace College Handbook. To learn the art of brevity and conciseness and still be able to communicate in taut emotional phrases, study Gordon Lightfoot's lyrics.
Until American chauvinism takes a backseat to common sense, no one is going to believe that Lightfoot is one of the best lyricists to pen a verse since the heyday of Oscar Hammerstein II and Lorenz Hart.
Lightfoot is a singer/songwriter in the classic mode of minstrel/troubadors who journeyed from town to town relating what they observed in their travels.
Since emerging from the Toronto folk club scene in the early '60s, the Canadian singer/songwriter has recorded 19 albums. He has had 5 Grammy nominations and has won 17 Juno Awards.
The most outstanding feature of Lightfoot's two-set performance was his ability to pack the experiences of a lifetime into a three minute song.
The final song of his first set, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," was a case in point. He compressed the true story of a Lake Superior freighter that disappeared during a November gale into a compact morality tale that combined Indian lore, emotional detail, and the helplessness of mortals pitted against the force of nature.
In "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," which he performed in the second half of the program, he captured in three minutes what it often takes many chapters to say.
Even love songs like "Sundown" shaped words and phrases into combinations that seemed effortless until the meticulous craft that supported them was examined. "I can see her lying back in her satin dress/In a room where you do what you don't confess."
Backed by a core band of guitarist Terry Clements, bassist Rick Haynes, keyboardest Mike Heffernan, and drummer Barry Keane, Lightfoot played classic material like "Carefree Highway," "In The Early Morning Rain," If You Could Read My Mind," "Beautiful," "and "Cotton Jenny," as well as many of the songs from his newest CD, "A Painter Passing Through."
"It's very autobiographical," said Lightfoot, who wrote the song and all but two of the 10 cuts. As usual, the songs on the album did "paint pictures."
"Uncle Toad" might have been about the 60-year-old Lightfoot observing youth today. "It's about the exuberance of youth," he said, "as seen through the eyes of a simple garden toad whose observing the goings-on of the young people of the house."
One of the most touching songs was "I Used to be a Country Singer" (written by Steve McEown) about a conversation with an aging hotel chambermaid who used to be a performer. "Kitty Wells was a real good friend of mine."
Lightfoot's most prevalent themes seem to be those of the loner roaming from place to place preferring nature to civilization.
Artpark, celebrating its 25th season, was not able to book the performer who opened the park, Miles Davis, but they did book the second, Gordon Lightfoot.
by Jim Santella, Contributing Reviewer