Thursday, January 04, 2018
Temporarily abandoning the sound he had explored in Nashville, our resident poet strips things back to basics. The chiming guitar interplay amongst Lightfoot, Red Shea and Terry Clements takes center stage, augmented only by strings and the melodic foundation work of bassist Rick Haynes. The end result is another impressive collection of songs, steeped in the rich tradition of folk narratives. His focus is sharp, with the words painting vivid pictures at every turn. Songcraft this good does not come without hours of contemplation, revision and hard, ugly work to fill the blank page. The lone cover in the pack (Shel Silverstein's "Susan's Floor") is decent enough, though it seems like filler when compared to the surrounding material.
Opening strong with the title track, Lightfoot takes wonderful artistic liberties with Miguel de Cervantes' iconic character, allowing him to pass clever commentary on the madness of modern human behavior.
See the man who tips the needle
See the man who buys and sells
See the man who puts the collar
On the ones who dare not tell
See the drunkard in the tavern
Stemming gold to make ends meet
See the youth in ghetto black
Condemned to life upon the street
The author himself picks up the thread
It was written for Michael Douglas' first movie, Hail, Hero! I wrote the title song for the movie, but it was no good, even though he used it. He didn't use "Don Quixote," even though it was a better song. It wasn't a very good demo. I was at the premiere of the movie in Boston, and the producers took us all out to the horse track there. It was the only time I ever went to the races in my life. The movie went down in flames. But the song survived, and it seems that Mr. Douglas has thrived also.
Once again, the playing is precise and sharp as the lyric. There are allusions to the futility of war ("See the soldier with his gun/Who must be dead to be admired") that balance perfectly with the brave but delusional young horseman, tilting at windmills in attack mode, believing them to be giants. All this in just over three minutes. The other two highlights on the first side are the upbeat "Alberta Bound" and the gorgeously arranged "Looking at the Rain". These two offerings share a common theme: love lost. The former sees the protagonist down on his luck romantically in Toronto, which offers a lot of fun but lacks the one girl that he truly cares about. Solution? He resolves to head west and catch up with her. The latter doesn't hold out much hope for reconciliation, with regret filling every corner of the page.
Wishing this was all a dream
And I'd find you sleeping when I wake
Elsewhere there are ecological concerns around whale hunting wrapped in the tale of "Ode to Big Blue" and his passion for sailing infuses "Christian Island (Georgian Bay)". The late Stan Rogers had to have been listening intently, as he took up similar themes and ran with them on a string of dazzling albums before his untimely passing. He also took more than a few cues from Lightfoot's musical template from this period.
Though this inspired gem rarely falters in consistently delivering quality songs, it contains my personal favorite out of everything that this gifted man has written. "Beautiful" lives up to its title in every sense, from its soaring melody to those expertly interwoven guitars. His very best, hands down.
Closing out with a stunning piece on the sad toll that war takes on humanity, this multi-part construction provides a harrowing bookend to the imagery that is explored in the opening cut. "The Patriot's Dream" is six- plus minutes that covers a wide scope of scenarios and could easily transfer to a short screenplay, though the underlying message is quite clear.
Pity that it doesn't always get through.