11/08/2010

Gordon Lightfoot: Casting a Musical Spell

My wife and I were extremely pleased to be in the audience at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland on November 3, 2010, for a performance by Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian singer and songwriter. It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening of warm and engaging songs, excellently performed to the highest degree of polished musicianship.

Gordon Lightfoot was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1938, and began to write songs in the 1950s. He rose to fame in the 1960s, with "Early Mornin' Rain," "For Lovin' Me," "The Way I Feel," "Ribbon of Darkness," "I'm Not Sayin'," and other heartfelt compositions. He achieved even greater fame in 1971, when one of his songs, "If You Could Read My Mind," was released as a single and became a major hit. A string of other hits, including "Sundown," "Rainy Day People," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," followed within the next few years.

He is now in his early seventies, and his voice has taken on a slight reediness with age, but his outstanding talent as a performer continues to be strongly evident. He still has the ability to fully command the interest of an audience. During his performance in Portland, he entertained his fans by singing many of his most well-known songs from the 1960s and 1970s, including "Early Mornin' Rain," "Ribbon of Darkness," "Cotton Jenny," "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown," "Carefree Highway," "The Watchman's Gone," and "Beautiful." His firm and measured rendering of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," a song conveying the true account of a ship that sank on Lake Superior in 1975, was one of the highlights of the evening.

Although Gordon Lightfoot had his primary heyday in the middle of the 1970s, a handful of his best songs from the 1980s and 1990s also were featured in his performance. "14 Karat Gold," "Blackberry Wine," "Baby Step Back," and "A Painter Passing Through" all displaying the knowing touch of a master songwriter. In addition to the gentle tones of Gordon Lightfoot's own guitar, his songs were tastefully supported by the guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums of the skilled musicians behind him.

Gordon Lightfoot cast a musical spell on his audience for several hours, moving quickly and smoothly from song to song, pausing only a few times to make brief comments. He apparently knew that his performance would not be enhanced by any elements of undue showiness. He wisely chose to avoid unnecessary words, allowing the proven quality of his music to speak for itself.