Various Artists – Beautiful: A Tribute To Gordon Lightfoot
Perhaps the only thing as bad as being underappreciated is being appreciated for the wrong reasons. Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot may well have the unique distinction of being both at once.
Despite an enviable degree of commercial success and a songbook that has been raided by everyone from Peter, Paul & Mary to Elvis Presley, Herb Alpert to Johnny Cash, these days Lightfoot is rarely mentioned in the songwriting pantheon. When he does get a nod, it’s sometimes with a dismissive reference as a sunny 1970s troubadour.
Beautiful may prompt listeners to reconsider his reputation. Its fifteen tracks eschew such light-of-heart material as “Pussywillows, Cat Tails”, “Carefree Highway” and “Rainy Day People”. Instead, the tone is often darker; despite Lightfoot’s reputation as a mellow fellow, he could also be a moody dude.
Cowboy Junkies set the bar high with a positively spooky reading of “The Way I Feel”, matched by the Tragically Hip’s anxious reading of Lightfoot’s Detroit riot ballad “Black Day In July” and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings’ bittersweet, unexpectedly tough treatment of “Summer Side Of Life”.
Jesse Winchester and Bruce Cockburn each do similar makeovers on their tracks. Winchester recasts the edgy “Sundown” in a more downbeat light and accentuates the lyric’s simmering contempt. The jauntiness of the original “Ribbon Of Darkness” is erased in Cockburn’s take, which is stripped of decoration and delivered with trebly guitar accompanying the mournful vocal.
Not everyone is as adventurous. Blue Rodeo offers a sprightly treatment of “Go Go Round”, Ron Sexsmith gets nicely dewy-eyed on “Drifters”, Connie Kaldor delivers a heartfelt “If You Could Read My Mind”, and James Keelaghan presents a reverent “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” All are perfectly listenable but mostly just remind the listener that Lightfoot’s originals are worth digging out.
Somewhat surprisingly, no one dared reconsider “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald”; I’d recommend the Dandy Warhols’ version.