Thursday, 23 June 2016

"Lightfoot!" by GORDON LIGHTFOOT (His 1966 DEBUT LP Inside "The United Artists Collection" - 1993 EMI-USA 2CD Remasters) - 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. And this is never more evident than on his fantastic but completely overlooked debut album “Lightfoot” from the spring of 1966. Here are the early morning rains, the way he feels and the ribbons of darkness:

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 LPs Remastered onto 2CDs. 

The first 14-tracks on Disc 1 contain the "Lightfoot!" LP by GORDON LIGHTFOOT and play out as follows (77:32 minutes):

Side 1
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

Side 2:
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]. Produced by JOHN COURT - it failed toi chart. 

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

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 foldout 12-leaf inlay has knowledgeable and informative liner notes by noted musicologist COLIN ESCOTT. On one-side of the inlay are black and white publicity photos of a young and sprightly Lightfoot smiling away like the world is his oyster (probably was back then) - while Side 2 pictures the 4 albums (along with “Sunday Concert”) in lovely colour, gives tracks lists, discography info (musicians etc) and even lists the US 7” singles surrounding the LPs – as well as the usual reissue credits (BRUCE HARRIS produced). You will also notice from the track list of his second album provided above that Lightfoot ‘re-recorded’ the song “The Way I Feel” for it – referred to here as Version 2.

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. In fact I think this is the only place you can locate the “Lightfoot!” album intact. There was also another LP – a live set called "Sunday Concert" on United Artists UAS-6714 [Stereo] released in October 1969 in the USA - not on here either 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 of 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. But let’s get to that sublime debut...

“Lightfoot!” is an entirely Acoustic Folk album in the vein of say Fred Neil or Phil Ochs or Tom Paxton. The only other players on the record are DAVID RAE and BRUCE LANGHORNE who provide second guitar on “Long River” and “Peaceful Waters” – and that’s it – just Lightfoot – his guitar and his voice. In fact of the 14 songs – 11 are Lightfoot originals and the three covers reflect his Folk-based musical heroes – Phil Ochs for “Changes”, Ewan MacColl for “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and England’s Hamilton ‘Bob’ Camp for “Pride Of Man” (Simon & Garfunkel covered his “You Can Tell The World” on their 1964 debut album – the opening song on “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.”).  

Both “Rich Man’s Spiritual” and “Long River” are pleasant enough – simple Acoustic Folk – but it’s when you hit “The Way I Feel” that the truly beautiful melodies start to flow. 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 the 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” from the 1st LP as its B-side). We perk up with the chipper and boastful “For Lovin’ Me” where he warns potential female suitors that “...I ain’t the kind for hangin’ round...” and he’ll have ‘a hundred more’ lovelies before he’s through (count yourselves lucky ladies). His cover of Ewan MacColl’s gorgeous “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” keeps its quiet beauty.

Next nugget is a sweet version of “Changes” by Phil Ochs – debuted by Ochs on his third LP “In Concert” on Elektra Records. The rolling acoustic guitars are so pretty – but they pale against what for many might just be their favourite early Lightfoot song – “Early Morning Rain” (lyrics from it title this review). It’s the kind of lonesome 60’s tunesmith song that never dates (like say Nilsson's "Everybody’s Talkin'"). Paul Weller covered it on his excellent "Studio 150" album in 2004. "Ribbon Of Darkness" is another nugget too - Bruce Cockburn did a superbly sparse cover version of it on the tribute CD album “Beautiful - A Tribute To Gordon Lightfoot” in 2003. Americana fans have homed in on “Steel Rail Blues” too – a ‘carry-me-home to the one I love’ song that shuffles along like the big drive wheels of a freightcar. The other masterpiece on here is “I’m Not Sayin’” – a jolly sad song that jaunts along and reminds me of John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” sung by Glen Campbell or Linda Ronstadt singing Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” when she was with The Stone Poneys on Capitol Record sin 1967.

Lightfoot 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” (named after a track on his "Don Quixote" album from 1972) that featured 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 “Lightfoot!” 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.

1966's "Lightfoot!" is an Acoustic Folk Album – something that seemed desperately uncool as the Sixties progressed and instruments and ego drowned out everything. But I’d argue if you want tunes, songwriting magic and a voice that will snuggle its deep tonal way into your heart – then Gordon Lightfoot's "The United Artists Collection" at less than six-quid online for 2CDs of quality remasters is the big jet plane for you.

A musical bargain at twice the price - big time recommended...

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