Gordon Lightfoot

  1. Somewhere USA
  2. High and Dry
  3. Seven Island Suite
  4. Circle of Steel
  5. Is There Anyone Home
  6. The Watchman’s Gone
  7. Sundown
  8. Carefee Highway
  9. The List
  10. Too Late for Prayin’

This album holds surprises in its casual shadows that give it unexpected depth upon repeated listenings. The title track may be the obvious manifestation of that notion, but several other tracks amplify it much more subtly.

“Seven Island Suite” is a great example: it starts as almost generic early’70s folk-rock songwriting, but at not even two minutes in it segues into something trancendent via a mantra of overlain guitar and discreet electronica, the latter probably intended at the time to convey a sense of the technoindustrialization the person addressed would want to escape but which now brings in a hint of tranquilization to boot (still supporting the previous impression). There’s an almost-classic-Folk Epiphany, harkening back to earlier Lightfoot style, about two-thirds of the way through the song…but then the mantra bridge recurs and Lightfoot wraps up the song with a repeat of the song’s opening that now has a deeper insight, leaving the listener with not so much a picture being described as a challenge to face or to walk away from. All that AND he uses gender-inclusive lyrics that don’t jar but still register.

But DAMN, what a pool of dark complicated beauty the title track is. To call it “infectious” would be ridiculous understatement: this baby gets under your skin and itches at unexpected moments, triggered afresh anytime you happen to be within earshot of a radio playing it and plunging you into introspection whether you want to make that dive or not. I remember its haunting, sweet feel from the 1970s when I was just a kid…it’s a sound that seems like it should be just folksy but instead colors its wheat-and-wood colors with a sad and dangerous green shade of blue. And such perfect vocal arrangements to pluck those worrying strings…they may be warm in theory but their effect heightens the sense that there’s a deeply sad and wounded hollow at the heart of each chorus. There’s true musical magic in this recording. If there’s any way this track could have been made more perfect, I can’t think of it: it’s superb craftsmanship.

I tend to skip over some tracks here, especially “Carefree Highway” and “Somewhere USA,” because the aforementioned tracks and a few others set a higher bar than the obvious radio-ready fare can supply. There is great storytelling in “The Watchman’s Gone” and “Circle of Steel” that can make you disbelieve the tracks are as short as they are when you consider how long their stories play in your mind. I also find myself returning in fascination to “Is There Anyone Home,” although I truly have no idea what the story is behind the lyrics.