In review: Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown (WEA, 1974).
I really doubt that Gordon Lightfoot has ever been ‘cool’. As he has said himself, he came out of the folk revival of the (very) early 1960s. Despite some cosmetic changes to his style over the years, he has remained true to his vision. Sundown, one of a host of studio albums Lightfoot put out in the 1970s is very constant. It’s a disc of ballads with strong country undertones. And you could just stop there.
But when you start listening to the songs, their lyrics, you start to realise these are no steel gee-tar bourbon swillers. Lightfoot is singing about love, yes, but he’s singing about unrequited love. And he’s singing about it well.
The pairing of the longing and regret in the music mixes so well. The arrangements and orchestrations are balanced perfectly to give maximum impact. An edge exists to this album, though. ‘Sundown’, Lightfoot’s best selling single, is about toxic love and an extramarital entanglement from which no love can come.
There are more upbeat tracks, of course. But even in the most downcast there is resilience and reflection. Love may not have worked out. Love may have been cruel. But love is a window into yourself. Your inner being, Lightfoot implies, needs your love as much as any other individual. Indeed, only through finding a level in our own emtional life can we ever hope to access honestly someone else’s. As the lines from ‘Carefree Highway’ states, ‘living is just bein’ satisfied / With knowing ‘ I got no one left to blame’.
This all combines into a high impact album that is yet subtle. It asks you some direct questions but then leaves you to ponder a few potentially unpalatable answers.