Memory Motel: Looking Back at Lightfoot Live
The Canadian troubadour captured live.
April 17 saw the release of Massey Hall Moments: All Live, an album that captures some of Gordon Lightfoot's greatest moments in concert at Toronto's legendary Massey Hall. In May of 2011, Ontario-born Lightfoot played his 150th show at the venue, so there must have been a wealth of material to choose from for this kind of collection. But even though Lightfoot's most celebrated work comes from the ‘60s and ‘70s, this album looks in on a later phase of the troubadour's touring career. The cuts on Massey Hall Moments were all recorded between 1998 and 2001, making it clear that latter-day Lightfoot still had plenty of gas in his tank during this period.
Of course, when you've got a back catalog like Lightfoot's, it's impossible to ignore the past, no matter how many years you put between yourself and your early hits. If Lightfoot dropped songs like "If You Could Read My Mind," "Early Morning Rain," "Sundown," and "Carefree Highway" from his set, he'd not only be guilty of cruel and unusual punishment for denying his fans their sonic sustenance, he'd probably have been torn limb from limb by angered admirers long ago. And while the 73-year-old songwriter is still pretty spry, that's probably a scenario he doesn't care to risk. So you'll find all the aforementioned tunes on this album, as well as later cuts like "Ringneck Loon" and "A Painter Passing Through," and less iconic songs, such as "Baby Step Back" (from the 1982 album Shadows) and 1967's "Song for a Winter's Night."
Of course, while these songs haven't lost an iota of their appeal, time stands still for no man, and the Gordon Lightfoot of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s can't be expected to sound identical to the Lightfoot of three decades earlier. If his deep, husky sound was comparable to a baritone saxophone in the early days (my journalist guru Vic Garbarini once memorably described it as "oaky"), his voice had become more of a bass clarinet by this point, but he was no less capable of putting across his songs with every ounce of intention intact. Even today, after having gone through some serious health problems between 2002 and 2006, Lightfoot still storms the boards with authority on a regular basis, so it's still possible to avail yourself of the concert experience in the flesh. But if you want to brush up on the past performances of the Canuck balladeer - who is not generally in the habit of releasing live albums - Massey Hall Moments is a good place to start (give the 1969 recording Sunday Concert a try too while you're at it).
|Early Morning Rain|
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