Gordon Lightfoot Album Reviews

The lightfoot.ca review by Wayne Francis
February 5, 2020

Cast your mind back to the early 60’s. Riding the wave of the folk revival, coffeehouses across North America were the scene of a burgeoning and impressive roster of singer-songwriters. Solo performers, acoustic guitar in hand, just then at the outset of their musical journey.

You might picture finding Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel on those intimate stages honing their craft. And forefront among them, Gordon Lightfoot.

Before the widespread fame and hit records graduated Lightfoot to concert halls and arenas, before he had his band, Lightfoot played the coffeehouse and tavern circuit as a solo act, building his song catalog and reputation along the way.

Which brings us to today and Lightfoot’s latest studio album, Solo. It is Lightfoot’s first album of original material released as “guitar and vocal” only arrangements, a candid glimpse into how the songs sound as they are newly written.

Nine of these tracks are from sessions held in 2002 just prior to Lightfoot suffering a near fatal abdominal aneurysm in September of that year. The 10th track is a recently written and recorded song, the touching and poignant, "Easy Flo".

And how do they sound? The first thing that strikes you is the vocal clarity and expressiveness throughout the 10 songs and together with his 6 and 12 string guitars, the mixes provide a full and rich sound that belies the spare arrangements. Lightfoot even sprinkles in some softly understated whistling for good measure during a few of the instrumental breaks, or occasionally counting in the start, adding to the feeling of spontaneity of the sessions.

You might think that 50 years into a songwriting odyssey, inspiration for Lightfoot might be slowly waning, but as these songs prove, Lightfoot has lost none of his inventiveness and originality that has been a hallmark of his songwriting career. Lyrically and melodically Lightfoot is in excellent form. Each song is unique unto itself, each different in style and approach.

Lightfoot can still turn a phrase with the best of them. Wry ironic humour, with a wink and a nod to his life travels abound as he sings in Dreamdrift;

“My radar tells me there’s a ghost at my side,
Still I keep on walking and the ghost gets a ride”

Now there’s a line to live by for anyone hoping to shake ties with the past. Not easily done.

The first single from the album, "Oh So Sweet" is quintessential Lightfoot. A beautifully finger picked ballad that finds the singer reflecting on days and love gone by, choosing to remember the sweeter times while acknowledging the choices that did not lead to fulfillment.

In “Just A Little Bit” the momentum builds as he cleverly cascades one rhetorical question built upon another, in a song that has an irresistible forward motion, similarly behind a driving rhythm in “Do You Walk, Do You Talk”.

"Return Into Dust" is in a folk style quite reminiscent of a song that would not sound at all out of place in the coffeehouses mentioned above. A classic example of the timeless qualities often attributed to Lightfoot’s music.

One of the centrepieces of the album is "E-motion". As the title suggests, this relationship plays out on line, graced with a memorable and catchy hook laden tune, highlighting Lightfoot’s expert phrasing. This song sticks in your mind long after it has stopped playing.

Another timeless song is "The Laughter We Seek". It would not seem out of place on one of Lightfoot's 1960's albums as it is propelled along on the insistent and infectious strum of the 12 string guitar. Yet it is still very here and now.

We find Lightfoot in "Better Off" displaying a musically light and airy touch, a song built upon a swiftly changing and intricate chord structure, not often utilized by Lightfoot. But the breezy melody is contrasted by a lyric contemplating a looming demise between two people. Very strong song.

The album closes with the beautiful and wistful ballad “Why Not Give It A Try”. Lightfoot’s voice here elicits a vulnerable tone against the backdrop of his softly finger picked 12 string guitar. The song evokes a touch of melancholy for the turning of life’s page, but ever the optimist, Lightfoot still searches for answers while looking ahead - indeed, why not give it a try?

So there you have it. Ten distinctive rhythms and melodies from a songwriting master. Each song stands alone on its own merits. Lightfoot, represented here as a Solo artist, carries the day!