Thursday, 18 August 2011

"The United Artists Collection" by GORDON LIGHTFOOT (1993 USA EMI - 4LPs Remastered Onto 2CDs) - A Review by Mark Barry...


                                  "…A Long Way From Home…Miss My Loved Ones So…"

Canada’s Gordon Lightfoot has always seemed to ‘bubble’ under – never given the credit he’s due as a tunesmith. While he scored big in the early Seventies when he signed to Reprise Records – this set concentrates on the first part of his career in the Sixties with America’s United Artists. And like Nilsson on RCA or even Neil Diamond on Uni Records – there are truly superb nuggets to be had here - too often thrown into that much-maligned category-horror called ‘easy listening’. 

In fact this stunning 2CD retrospective containing 4 full album’s worth hardly entices with its barely passable artwork (front or rear). But it nails a damn good argument on two fronts that matter – songs and great remastering of them. Here are the early mornings, the way he feels and the names she didn’t mention:

Released October 1993 in the USA - "The United Artists Collection" by GORDON LIGHTFOOT on EMI Records USA E2-27015 (Barcode 724382701521) offers 4 x 60ts STEREO LPs Remastered onto 2CDs and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (77:32 minutes):
1. Rich Man’s Spiritual
2. Long River
3. The Way I Feel (Version 1)
4. For Lovin’ Me
5. The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face
6. Changes
7. Early Mornin’ Rain
8. Steel Rail Blues
9. Sixteen Miles (To Seven Lakes)
10. I’m Not Sayin’
11. Pride Of Man
12. Ribbon Of Darkness
13. Oh, Linda
14. Peaceful Waters
Tracks 1 to 14 are his debut LP "Lightfoot!" - released March 1966 in the USA on United Artists UAL-3487 [Mono] and UAS-6487 [Stereo]

15. Walls
16. If You Got It
17. Softly
18. Crossroads
19. A Minor Ballad
20. Go-Go Round
21. Rosanna
22. Home From The Forest
23. I’ll Be Alright
24. Song For A Winter’s Night
25. Canadian Railroad Trilogy
26. The Way I Feel (Version 2 – Re-Record of Version 1)
Tracks 15 to 26 are his 2nd LP "The Way I Feel" - released April 1967 in the USA on United Artists UAL-3587 [Mono] and UAS-6587 [Stereo]
Stereo used in both cases

Disc 2 (73:53 minutes):
1. Wherefor And Why
2. The Last Time I Saw Her
3. Black Day In July
4. May I
5. Magnificent Outpouring
6. Does Your Mother Know
7. The Mountain And Maryann
8. Pussywillows, Cat-Tails
9. I Want To Hear It From You
10. Something Very Special
11. Boss Man
12. Did She Mention My Name?
Tracks 1 to 12 are his 3rd LP "Did She Mention My Name?" – released January 1968 in the USA on United Artists UAL-3649 [Mono] and UAS-6649 [Stereo]

13. Long Way Back Home
14. Unsettled Ways
15. Long Thin Dawn
16. Bitter Green
17. The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes)
18. Marie Christine
19. Cool Hands From New York
20. Affair On 8th Avenue
21. Don’t Beat Me Down
22. The Gypsy
23. If I Could
Tracks 13 to 23 are his 4th LP "Back Here On Earth" – released November 1968 in the USA on United Artists UAS-6672 [Stereo Only]

KEVIN REEVES carried out the remastering (Stereo used in all cases) and his work here is gorgeous. There’s a truly lovely sound on these discs – particularly on the first two albums. I’ve reviewed his excellent work several times before and watch out for any reissues he’s put a hand to. The 12-page booklet is a foldout inlay and has knowledgeable and informative liner notes by noted musicologist COLIN ESCOTT.

Highlights include the wonderful "Early Morning Rain" (lyrics above) – the kind of 60’s tune that never dates (like say Nilsson's "Everybody’s Talkin'"). Paul Weller covered it on his excellent "Studio 150" album in 2004. "Go-Go Round" from his 2nd album is a winner too – a jaunty little number about a nightclub 'go-go' dancer who falls for a punter. It was issued as the A-side of a 45 in the USA in November 1966 and showed both his lyrical brilliance as well as his way with a hooky melody. "Ribbon Of Darkness" from the 1st LP is another nugget too - Bruce Cockburn did a superbly sparse cover version of it on the Gordon Lightfoot tribute CD album “Beautiful - A Tribute To…” in 2003.

There are two versions of "The Way I Feel" – the first on "Lightfoot!" is commonly known as Version 1 – the one on "The Way I Feel" LP is a remake with more instruments and is known as Version 2 (I much prefer the prettier Version 1). It was this second attempt at the track that was issued as a 45 in the USA on United Artists UA 50152 in March 1967 (with “Peaceful Waters” as its B-side). Two other peaches are "I'm Not Sayin'" and the truly lovely "Softly" – the latter belatedly put out as a B-side to "If I Could" in February 1971 (his last 45 for UA) even though it was a 1967 track. Some of the stuff on the 3rd and 4th LPs show him struggling to maintain the excellence of the first two records - but mostly at 49-tracks - the whole 2CD set is an embarrassment of riches.

Omissions – the first 3 albums were issued in both MONO and STEREO – not surprisingly the MONO mixes are a no-show here and as far as I know are not available on CD anywhere. There was also another album – a live set called "Sunday Concert" on United Artists UAS-6714 [Stereo] released in October 1969 in the USA - not on here no doubt due to space restrictions. Two 7” singles are missing as well – "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" on United Artists UA 929 from August 1965 and "Spin, Spin" on United Artists UA 50055 from July 1966 – both these early A-sides were non-album at the time and it’s a shame they weren’t added onto Disc 2 – especially when there was room…

He went on of course to have huge success with “If You Could Read My Mind” and "Sundown” - even garnishing the ultimate tribute - a compilation of CD covers attributed to him in 2003 called “Beautiful” (a track on his "Don Quixote" album from 1972) featuring a crew of contemporary Americana fans like Cowboy Junkies, Ron Sexsmith and Bruce Cockburn. His Seventies stuff on Reprise is equally sweet material too but this set is where that craft started. There’s a lot on here that’s lovely and you can hear why Bob Dylan name-checked him in the liner notes to his own "Biograph" retrospective in 1985.

Less than six-quid online - it's a bargain at twice the price. Big time recommended... 

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