Unlike many of the folk artists of the past decade, Gordon Lightfoot
drifted into electric rock. Perhaps this is because his music is
related to the country-western spirit, and he feels akin to the land.
Lightfoot sings about traveling or love, he is not really describing
plastic world of today's young people, but a nostalgic one of candy
diesel trucks, and trains. But that's all right, it's genuine,
I like it.
Gordon Lightfoot conveys a certain easygoing, relaxed pace that doesn't demand a pushy arrangement. The strings that have been added to about half the songs of If You Could Read My Mind are nice, but they aren't necessary. Lightfoot's strength lies in his ability as a songwriter and folk singer. His accompaniment lies in the skills of the familiar Red Shea and Rick Haynes, with Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, and John Sebastian joining in on a few of the songs.
"Me and Bobby McGee" is the only song of the eleven on the album that Lightfoot did not write. It is a powerful, emotional song of wide spaces and close people. A windshield wiper rhythm slaps the song along, as Ry Cooder joins the Lightfoot trio in a beautiful accompaniment. Lightfoot's multi-track harmony toward the end has got to be some of the nicest he's ever recorded. You can't help but get caught up in this song -- the words, melody, singing, and instrumental jell perfectly.
Cooder and Van Dyke join Lightfoot's trio for a delightful round titled "Cobwebs and Dust". Its simple melody and daydream lyric are beautifully handled, with Lightfoot's singing laid against a rustic blend of guitars, mandolin, and harmonium. The harmonium, sort of a pump reed organ, sounds a bit like a small accordion and gives the song a certain Appalachian texture.
"Sit Down Young Stranger" is a graceful, introspective ballad. The solid melody, the calm trio, and Lightfoot's vocal all contribute to mold an involving song. "Pony Man" drifts in a dream world; its melody is one of the best on the album. It's just too bad the producers decided to cover up Lightfoot's whistling on a pair of bridges with John Sebastian's harmonica, which doesn't quite fit.
"Minstrel of the Dawn" is another peaceful ballad with floating Lightfoot images. Randy Newman arranged the strings here, as well as on "Approaching Lavender". "Baby, It's Alright", with John Sebastian playing electric guitar, is the closest Lightfoot gets to rock.
Probably some of these songs are not going to be remembered as great songs. But there is a lot of Gordon Lightfoot in this album, as well as some of the best material Lightfoot has ever done, and, with songs like "Cobwebs and Dust" and "Me and Bobby McGee," some of the nicest folk music on record anywhere.