Sundown, you better take care.
Gordon Lightfoot has been a pioneer in folk music alongside such luminaries as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, and has continued to write and perform over a nearly 40 year career. A large number of artists have covered some of his music over the years, as he proves the strength and emotional involvement elicited by his songwriting. His songs transcend the folk music genre and have been described as everything from folk to country to contemporary, and he has been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. For the first time a live concert DVD is widely available in the US, and we are the better for it. A fine soundtrack and selection of songs ranging the entire length and breadth of his career make this both a great addition for the dedicated fan and a wonderful way to expose yourself to his music for the first time.
Facts of the Case
Gordon Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario, Canada on November 17, 1938. His first public appearance was at the tender age of 13, when he won a contest for boys with unchanged voices. His career began to take off in the early '60s, and some of his early songs were covered by other artists, such as "Early Morning Rain" by Peter, Paul and Mary. In 1970, he switched to the Warner/Reprise label, and it was here that most of his chart leading hits came, including "Carefree Highway," "If You Could Read My Mind," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," and "Sundown." His latest album came in 1998, the well-received A Painter Passing Through. Live in Reno was performed at the Pioneer Theater in Reno, Nevada on April 19, 2000 and was first offered in the US as a PBS special and a pledge gift in a 14 song version of the concert. This is a preferred 22 song version.
Back in the '60s and '70s I listened to Gordon Lightfoot a fair bit when I wanted to take a break from the harder rock that was the staple of my listening. I always enjoyed his voice, but was even more impressed by his abilities as a songwriter. In this regard, I considered him very much like Bob Dylan, who was a musical influence on Lightfoot and vice versa. They've both been known to cover songs written by the other. As the years wore on, however, I lost track of him. So, I was interested to see what became of him when I saw this DVD. At first, I must admit I got the wrong impression. I saw the band on a stage that seemed almost too small to accommodate them, and I became sad. For a moment I thought, "How the mighty have fallen," that he would be playing on a stage no larger than many I performed on, especially considering I had never achieved any level of fame. Well, the stage may have been small, but my fears were put to rest when the camera panned around the large packed theater. Gordon Lightfoot still has legions of cheering fans.
As an aside to this review, something else immediately got my attention. My father spent most of his life as a country and western singer and musician, right up until his death last year. The resemblance between my father and Gordon Lightfoot was striking. Take away the mustache, curl the hair a bit, and make the eyes blue and they'd be very close in appearance. Add in their music was similar, and the two even shared the same birthday. It took a minute or two to get the image of my father out of my head. Fortunately, I was able to get past this and evaluate the music and the disc on their own merits.
I have to give my approval to both. Virtually every song I remembered from Lightfoot's extensive repertoire is on this disc. I'm sure dedicated Lightfoot fans will find something missing, but this is an excellent selection of music. Every era of his career is represented, from the early '60s "For Lovin' Me" to the title track "A Painter Passing Through" from 1998. The performance was top-notch; which isn't surprising since the band is made up of people who have played together for decades. Lightfoot seems to have gotten a bit more of that Dylan rasp over the years, but it didn't bother me in the slightest.
The disc also met and surpassed my expectations in the sound and picture areas. The image quality is quite good, though sometimes I thought a bit of edge enhancement was evident. Detail was very good and colors were vibrant. The sound is what really matters on a concert disc though and here I had no complaints at all. The mix is very nice, setting us up with a good seat in the audience—no gimmicky voices coming from the left rear speaker. Imaging was well placed across the front soundstage. These kudos apply to both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Both are excellent tracks, though I gave the slight edge to DTS with a bit more open midrange. Though both are compressed sound formats, this was music well represented.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaints with the disc are small ones. First off, there are no lyrics available at all. The DVD format is wonderful for music because you can allow lyrics in the subtitles for those who would like to sing along, or have always wondered just what a certain line said. I would like to be able to consider lyric subtitles as a standard feature on music discs, but that day has not yet arrived. There is also no extra content at all. An interview or bio at the least would have been nice.
I have one other issue with the disc. I've been told that the actual concert was even longer than the 22 songs presented. We had a 14 song version, and now a 22 song one. The concert only lasts 87 minutes on a dual-layer disc. Wouldn't it have been better to include the whole concert, considering the lack of extras? Hard to believe a couple more songs wouldn't have fit on the disc.
Despite a couple grumbles noted above, I'm very pleased with this disc and am happy to add it to my music collection. If you've only heard a couple songs from Gordon Lightfoot before, or you have everything he's ever done, this is a recommended purchase. Those who listen to this and want more can be happy, since Gordon Lightfoot Songbook 1962-1998, a four-CD set covering his career in depth was released in 1999.
The court thanks Gordon Lightfoot for keeping his music alive for his fans, and making a live concert available for everyone.
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