Thursday, March 18, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 107: Gordon Lightfoot

Wow - another album, another bout of the Production Blues. This time I was seriously irked, as it was at the expense of one of my all-time music heroes.

Disc 107 is...Gord's Gold Volume II
Artist: Gordon Lightfoot

Year of Release: 1988

How I Came To Know It: I've known Gordon Lightfoot all my life, having grown up with the original "Gord's Gold" which was a staple in my Mom's collection. I bought this album back in the late eighties/early nineties when I was looking for "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and couldn't find the studio album that had it. Incidentally, that album is "Summertime Dream" which I now have - but that's not our subject today.

How It Stacks Up: This is a "best of" and they don't stack up. However I have three different Gordon Lightfoot "best ofs" and this is the worst of the three. I also have five studio albums which I am really looking forward to reviewing (and this weekend it is my intent to add to this collection).

Rating: I don't rate best ofs, dammit. That is the way of it, here at "A Creative Maelstrom" and that is the way it is gonna stay!

This album is by one of the three greats of Canadian singer/songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot. The other two are Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. Recently Cohen's song "Hallelujah" stole the show at the Olympic opening, and Neil Young was by far the best part of the closing ceremonies. Lightfoot was third man out, unfortunately.

Like Cohen and Young, Lightfoot isn't getting any younger, and in fact there was a recent hoax where for about 4 hours I thought he had died. Later it was revealed to be one of his friends engaging in a prank that got out of hand (nice to see Gord is still pushing the envelope). I was seriously depressed thinking he was gone, and I realized how sad I am going to be the day the headline is true for any of those guys. I am fearful it won't be long we'll start to lose them, and we won't see their like again.

Anyway, before I get all maudlin, back to the album.

Although not well known, Gord doesn't just do best of records. He will often re-record all the songs when he puts it together - no original recordings. He did this with "Gord's Gold" as well. In some cases the songs sound quite a bit different from the original as a result.

This can be a good thing - "Gord's Gold" is a quality "best of" album. Frankly, it is one of the best compilations in my collection, and not least of which because the songs sound fresh.

Unfortunately, Volume II's production is about as nice as the sweater Gord is wearing on the album cover. Recorded in 1988, it is solidly in Lightfoot's mumbly-contemporary phase.

Not that I always object to this phase - in fact I even have a soft spot for 1986's "East of Midnight" which is definitely a departure many fans didn't appreciate.

Unfortunately, most of the tracks on "Gord's Gold Vol. II" are done with an earlier production in mind. Consequently the songs just don't suit themselves to "Ambient Guitar Mumble-Sing" (This style is surprisingly tolerable on "East of Midnight.").

So, while I admire Lightfoot's efforts to re-imagine his older songs when he compiles them, in this case he only accomplishes making them sound bad. That isn't to say this album is bad - the songs themselves are strong enough to survive any production. Lightfoot does his level best to ruin them, but only partially succeeds.

In fact, even the bad re-imagining of "Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald" had me choking up when I heard these lines:

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd've made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind 'em."

Tough stuff - and this song should be required listening to anyone who calls themselves a Canadian. Just listen to it on "Summertime Dream" where it sounds like it is supposed to.

Of course, Gord would say when he played it the first way, that's how he wanted it, and when he played it the second way, that's how he wanted it as well. Fair enough, Gord - it's your song, I'm not going to argue over it. Besides, even at age 72 I am fairly certain you could still kick my ass if I pressed the issue.

For now, I'll keep this album - of the eighteen tracks I only have seven on other albums. However, once I reach at least ten, I'm going to let her go and free up space on the CD rack.

Best tracks: There are lots of good tracks on this record - and I heartily recommend you find them in their originally recorded versions.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

It will be a sad day indeed when we lose Gord.

The production on this album is truly awful, I agree. Let's go buy more Gord albums tomorrow!