Gordon Lightfoot Album Reviews

by Wayne Francis

        In the spring of 1968 Lightfoot released his most highly produced and orchestrated album up until that time, Did She Mention My Name.  By the fall of the same year he was back with another new album, this time preferring to record with just two guitars and bass, creating a remarkably different album than its predecessor.  The new album was appropriately titled - Back Here On Earth.  (Interestingly, many years later after his most highly produced album ever, East Of Midnight, he followed it with another back to basics effort, Waiting for You, although instead of a seven month gap between albums, these two would be a full seven years apart!)
        During the summer of '68 Lightfoot had travelled to England on a writing trip.  Things got off to a good start.  As the plane flew over the English countryside approaching London, Lightfoot got the inspiration for Bitter Green.  He wrote the song later that same day back at his hotel.  He continued to write a song a day while travelling by train to Scotland.  He would write on the train, get off and go to a hotel for the night and continue writing.  By the time he returned to Canada he had enough songs to do a new album.  And many of the songs retained that English flavor from whence they came, Marie Christine, Long Way Back Home, If I Could and Bitter Green being prime examples.
        So how would these new songs be recorded? Red Shea suggested going to Nashville because they "really know how to get a good acoustic guitar sound down there."  That's all Lightfoot needed to hear and instead of New York where the last album was done, it was off to Nashville.  Recording an album for the first time utilizing only his touring band, this was Lightfoot in the purest form.
        The songs were very strong and the performances were stellar.  From the urban setting of Cold Hands From New York, The Circle Is Small and Affair On Eighth Avenue (written about a German girl who was a waitress at the Playboy club in New York) to the highways of Long Thin Dawn, the carnival atmosphere of The Gypsy, the ever present sea song - Marie Christine and the highly poetic If I Could, a forerunner of Don Quixote perhaps?
        And within his own poem that graces the album, lie in his own words, perhaps his reason for doing what he's been compelled to do all the years before and since - "I see the poet as a word prophet, a dealer in songs and phrases, of whistful melodies and subtle warnings, passing his nights in lonliness, tormented by blank pages, which cry out with dying breath to be filled with the secrets of his heart ... I see him walking quietly unnoticed, through the ghettos of our cities, across the rolling countryside ... I see him take his rest at truckstops and sleezy hotels, in worksheds and warehouses, loading docks and shipyards and cabins upon mountainsides."
        Yet again we find Lightfoot waxing with quixotic eloquence and laying out for us - and himself, the path that lay ahead.  It has been, and is, a great ride!