Gordon Lightfoot has written an astonishing number of great songs during his long recording career. In the grand tradition of storytelling singer-songwriter guitar-playing folk singers, skirting the fringes of country and pop, Gordon Lightfoot is one of the absolute finest. His songs endure.
Despite the quality of his songs, and many best-selling albums, Gordon Lightfoot remains a criminally underrated artist, one that has never catapulted to the upper ranks of fame and acclaim. Maybe the humble “Canadian factor” has something to do with it, or the fact that his songs aren’t political or controversial, thus he’s not considered a “serious” artist in the vein of Bob Dylan or Neil Young. But perhaps it’s just because the native of Ontario is such a normal, unassuming musician, as opposed to a “colorful” character who is constantly in the media spotlight, that he’s not considered a superstar.
Whatever the case, Lightfoot has penned and sang hundreds of great songs that have also been covered by dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of other artists. Hidden Treasure? Gordon Lightfoot is all that and more. Surely anyone over the age of forty will remember his songs — “If Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” are the most well known. Since his first album, released in 1965, Lightfoot consistently recorded and performed live concerts until the late 1990s. Some ensuing health problems slowed him down and curtailed his concert schedule for several years, but he bounced back with a new album, Harmony, in 2004, and a tour the following year.
There are several excellent compilation albums of songs, highlighting both his early work for United Artists, and his later albums for Reprise/Warner Brothers. The first Gordon Lightfoot album I ever owned was a compilation called Gord’s Gold. I’ve owned that treasured collection on various formats over the years; vinyl, CD, cassette, and even 8-Track tape. The one knock some people make against this collection, is that some of the “hits” were re-recorded versions. That aside, the songs still sound great and this collection never gets stale. The Lightfoot purists, however, will argue that his best material is found on The United Artists Collection, a compilation of his early recordings. And it’s hard to find fault with that judgment either; the material on this two-disc set is stellar, including many of his best tunes: Ribbon of Darkness, Early Mornin’ Rain, Steel Rail Blues, Song for a Winter’s Night, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, The Way I Feel, Did She Mention My Name, and Bitter Green. For those with a real hankering for even more vintage Lightfoot, there is the four-disc boxed set, Songbook. This, of course, culls highlights from Lightfoot’s recording career, as well as offering 16 previously unreleased tracks, plus many more making their first appearance on CD.
No matter which album or compilation you listen to, you will be treated to well-crafted songs, and Lightfoot’s trademark warm vocals, lovingly caressing each song.