Gordon Lightfoot Album Reviews

by Wayne Francis

        Here is another personal review, this time of that ever so rare recording from Lightfoot's distant past, TWO TONES AT THE VILLAGE CORNER.  This album was recorded live at the Village Corner in Toronto on January 20, 1962.  The Two Tones were composed of Lightfoot and his partner at the time, Terry Whelan. They had previously sung together in a barbershop quartet and I have to say, the most enjoyable aspect of this record is to hear how well Lightfoot sounds singing harmony.  I've read of how his beginnings were in barbershop quartets and it's fascinating to finally hear him singing with another voice to play off of.
        For the most part, Lightfoot seems to handle the melody line, while Whelan does the high harmony parts.  If Lightfoot had decided to forge ahead as a duo and write his own songs like Paul Simon within Simon & Garfunkel, I have little doubt that he would still have acheived great success.  Actually a couple of songs here remind me a great deal of early Simon & Garfunkel.  And the Two Tones weren't trying to copy S & G, because Simon & Garfunkel had still not made their appearance on the charts in January of 1962.
        Howie Morris provides acoustic upright bass as backup to the acoustic guitars. Throughout the album Lightfoot and Whelan engage in some well worn humour between songs, which while sounding very dated today, seems to strike just the right chord with their 1962 audience.  As just one example, before doing the song "Fast Freight", Lightfoot mentions that wanderlust sticks to some people like dandruff to an old suit coat, which gets a laugh. Then he says, "Here's a song about a guy who's got it bad," to which Whelan asks, "Dandruff?," and Lightfoot deadpans, "No, wanderlust."
    The album opens with an introduction from the MC, introducing us to the "fabulous Two Tones!"  They quickly break into the very uptempo opener;

        A perfect opening song for this group, announcing to the enthusiastic crowd what lies ahead.

        This one really reminded me of the early Simon & Garfunkel sound.

        Whelan says that Gordy will get his tenor guitar for this next song.  "That is a tenor guitar isn't it?," Whelan asks. Lightfoot says, "Yea, cost me 'ten or' twelve bucks!" And with that they launch into The Fox, a fast paced, nursery rhyme type of song.

        Whelan introduces this coal mine song as one I'm "sure you'll dig."  Lightfoot handles this one solo. I believe I've read that this is a song that had a great influence on Lightfoot. Considering he eventually wrote and recorded three miner's songs, it makes perfect sense.

        Some very nice harmony work here.  Lightfoot underneath and Whelan doing a nice job with the high end.

        Lightfoot generously introduces this as a love ballad "we" composed.  Of course Lightfoot wrote it himself, but as he continued to do throughout his career, he always extends great respect to those he works with. This soft acoustic arrangement is much nicer than the bigger arrangement of this song on EARLY LIGHTFOOT.  As a guitar was being retuned before starting this song, someone says as an aside that, "they dug the Panama Canal with less trouble."  I'm not sure if that remark came from Whelan or someone in the audience.

        Lightfoot introduces this as a song by "Terry O'Whelan from the Emerald Isle".  Whelan takes the lead on the verses and Lightfoot harmonizes on the choruses.  I always thought this song was called Whiskey In The Jar.

        A song from Trinidad. Lightfoot chimes in with an assortment of bird calls.  Some very tight harmonies here!

        Whelan introduces this as a song written especially for them. This one has that early Simon & Garfunkel feel to it also.

        Lightfoot introduces this by saying that no folk show would be complete without a spiritual. Perhaps inspiring him to soon write Rich Man's Spiritual?  He encourages anyone who knows it to sing along and the crowd enthusiastically claps time throughout.

        Nicely done! Slower than I've heard it before.  Whelan sets it up by describing a Kentucky summer night with the corn liquor flowing.

        Lightfoot introduces this as a song everyone can sing along to.  Lightfoot sings the verses solo and Whelan encourages the crowd to sing louder during the choruses. As this song and the record ends, the audience can be heard calling for more.

        My overall impression of this album, is of a typical pub on a Saturday night, with a musically tight, hard working duo successfully entertaining the patrons and making their night out more than worthwhile.  On any given Saturday night across North America, this scene may be repeated countless times by countless performers, but what separates this duo from any I've heard, are the tremendously tight harmonies and the vocal prowess of Gordon Lightfoot.  Not even touching on the wonderful expressiveness of his voice, I'm impressed all over again at the tremendous technical accuracy of his singing.  The guy's always in perfect pitch! It's one thing to acheive that in the controlled environment of the recording studio, but in a Saturday night pub, with lots of noise and distraction, it's truly a marvel.
        The Two Tones also released a single later that year with two songs that were recorded in the studio.  The songs were Lesson In Love and Sweet Polly, both covers, done in a more contemporary style than the live acoustic set.