Sunday, April 6, 2014

Summertime Dream - Gordon Lightfoot

Summertime Dream
Gordon Lightfoot
Reprise Records MS 2246

Last summer we took a Canadian road trip and visited all five of the Great Lakes.  As we were motoring along Lake Ontario, I had my Ipod plugged into the car stereo and the Dandy Warhols' cover of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (off "The Black Album") began playing.  It was the wrong lake of course, the ship sank in Superior, but it reminded me that Lightfoot's classic song had inspired my infatuation with this part of the continent back in my teens, an infatuation that has never diminished.  Out here in the west, our lakes are pretty modest, even the Great Salt Lake seems tame to me.  The idea of a lake big and ferocious enough to swallow up a great freighter fascinated me when I was younger and even now the majesty and size of Superior impresses me.  Back when this song came out I didn't care much for Lightfoot.  I only knew him from his hit singles "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway."  I thought of him as a dull singer/songwriter, the Canadian James Taylor.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" opened my eyes to his talent and a bit later via Ian and Sylvia I became aware of his 1960s work and turned into a fan.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is a great song, my favorite of all of Lightfoot's work.  It has a compelling folk-rock melody that sounds timeless and it is driven along by atmospheric stinging guitar licks from Terry Clements.  The lyrics are brilliant, using Native American references and an abundance of poetic detail to give the wreck an epic and mystical quality.  The song is full of vivid language and descriptions, lines like "old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams" and "the wind in the wires made a tattletale sound" really send me.  I've heard the song countless times and I still love hearing it.  In a way the song is too good.  It completely overwhelms the rest of the record.  When I first got the record I just played that song over and over, ignoring the rest of the record.  There are other good songs on it however.  I particularly like "Race Among the Ruins" which is a bright folk-rocker with a country rock flavor courtesy of Pee Wee Charles' steel guitar work.  The song is about optimism in the face of life's difficulties and the challenges of finding love.  There is some suggestion that the person the song addresses is delusional, but it is delivered with compassion so it doesn't seem mean or judgmental.  "Summertime Dream" is another sparkling tune that celebrates a summer tryst out in the country with colorful and expressive descriptions.  I also am impressed by "Protocol" which reminds me of Richard Thompson with its ringing guitar riff and evocative lyrics about heroism.  I'm not sure what "Too Many Clues In This Room" is driving at but it sounds nice.  The rest of the album is less inspired but still pleasant to listen to.  "I'd Do It Again" is a punchy country rocker about a musician with more solid guitar licks from Clements.  "The House You Live In" is full of moralizing that I find a little tedious.  "I'm Not Supposed to Care," "Never Too Close" and "Spanish Moss" are quiet songs about the foibles of love.  They are kind of ordinary but Lightfoot sings them with enough feeling to hold my interest.  The man has a terrific voice, its deep timber and resonance gives his songs a richness and gravity that sets him apart from most of his singer-songwriter peers.  Recommended to fans of Ian Tyson.

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