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October 99
Review of Songbook

by Scott D. McCormick

I once heard of a costume party where individuals came dressed as a character from a Bob Dylan song. I found the idea most intriguing.

Perhaps a more appropriate tribute to Gordon Lightfoot would be for everyone to bring a picture representing one of Gord's compositions. I can envision photographs of majestic Canadian landscapes, water colors of shipwrecks at sea and pencil sketches of a lonely hitchhiker stranded in the cold. What a lovely gallery it would be! 

A gallery is exactly what you will find in his new boxed set "Songbook." With 88 songs on four CD's this set is a remarkable tribute to a most prolific singer and songwriter. In chronological order the set spans Gordon's 36 year career. Starting with two very early cuts which he describes as a cross between Jim Reeves and Pat Boone it moves into his early career where he found his niche in the folk music scene. It moves into his hey day during the 70's with all his big hits and continues to cover his work through out the 80's and 90's when he was less successful commercially but always in good form artistically. The set ends with the title cut from his last CD "A Painter Passing Through" where the 60 year old singer takes a humbling but honest look at where he has been. 

Along with all his hits (i.e. "Sundown" and "If You Could Read My Mind") the package contains 16 never released cuts. Two real gems are "Too Much To Lose" a song that was turned down for the Paul Newman movie "Cool Hand Luke" (I can't imagine why) and another tune "Forgive Me Lord" which has been a concert favorite for years but never put on a record. As with most unreleased material there are some rough edges but the listener will not be disappointed. Gordon and co-producer Thane Tierney have compiled the songs nicely. The 60 page book that accompanies the collection is worth the price by itself, containing photographs and Gordon's personal reflections on each song. 

His contributions to the music world is legendary. His songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Peter, Paul and Mary and hundreds of others. Bluegrass virtuoso Tony Rice calls Lightfoot his favorite songwriter and Bob Dylan has said that when he hears a Lightfoot song he wishes it would never end. What would be folk singer hasn't cut his teeth strumming Lightfoot tunes?  

Not only is Gord a graphic lyric writer but as a tune smith his skills are phenomenal. His tunes flow easily and his chord structures are virtually unparalleled. 

The dark side of the album is a realization of what the singer has been through in getting where he is. A battle with alcoholism almost cost him his career, time on the road caused strained relationships with his children and cigarettes have taken a toll on his rich baritone voice. He seems more happy and settled now with a new wife and two young children (He has five children total). Hopefully he will keep making music and singing us his songs for many years to come. 

After listening to the collection I feel Like Dylan, I don't want his music to ever end. Lightfoot's favorite subject for songs is 'unrequited love' Hmm...What kind of a picture do I bring to represent that...? 

Enjoy the music, the gallery is beautiful!

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1999, Florian BODENSEHER