TIM’S TUNES: After more than five decades, Canadian musical legend continues to make music

At 80 years old, Canadian musical legend continues to perform. (Internet photo)

by Tim Forsman
Colby Radio Host

Gordon Lightfoot

Rhino / Warner Records – 2020

Gordon Lightfoot surprised fans in March 2020 with his first album of new music in nearly 16 years. Some background: Solo is a collection of songs that Lightfoot had initially started to record between 2001 and 2002. A health crisis occurred in September 2002. Suffering stomach pain, he entered an Ontario hospital and underwent surgery for a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm which brought him to the intensive care unit. Medical staff monitored his condition through a six-week coma and a total of four surgeries. The more than two dozen songs he had been working on all got set aside and some were forgotten.

And now: These forgotten song demos were found in his office files last year. Nine were completed for the album Solo. And solo is appropriate as the stripped-down recordings were just Gordon and his six or 12-string guitars. Upon review, he decided that this was the sound that these songs called for. He said, “I thought my fans would be interested in hearing what songs sound like when first written.” He recorded one more song early this year to round out the 10 songs on this new release. At age 81, Gordon Lightfoot still has a strong singing voice and when matched with his gentle guitar work, this makes for a pleasant listening experience. One that is easily taken in during one setting.

The album starts out with Oh, So Sweet… “It’s so easy to live with no fear or deceit. But sometimes I think maybe I have skipped a beat. The road I chose was not all it should be. But sometimes it was, oh, so sweet.” I think it is an observation from a man who has seen much over his eight decades. Triumph, grief, adoration, pain, Gordon has lived through much but still finds life’s sweetness.

Other songs also have the feeling of reflection over a life well lived, through high highs and low lows. In one song he is asking, “are we really better off than before?” The next states, “We will return into dust, through the years, a time meant for us, all our fears, will return into dust.” Further on, lyrics speak of a getting tired “just a little bit” with life’s little daily grinds. And what are we seeking in life’s travels … is it friendship … or laughter?

The song Easy Flo is the recent song, written for his third wife, Kim. It expresses a feel of being at ease, and the happiness that they share these days, “Easy come, easy go, easy Flo – She’s with me wherever I go.”

Minor health issues aside, Lightfoot still has plans to continue touring this new album. Before Covid-19, he was playing dozens of shows each year. Much like his contemporary, Bob Dylan, Gordon loves the performance, and gathers strength from the audiences. Dylan has been quoted: “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.”

In the end, will the songs from Solo anchor another edition of greatest hits, another “Gord’s Gold?” Probably not. But are they fine songs, presented in a simple way, just a man and his guitars. And well, that can often be pretty darn good.

RIYL – (Recommended If You Like) –

  • “Lightfoot” (2017) – a thorough biography by Nicholas Jennings – this book covers from childhood to life at the top of the music world and into an award-winning elder statesman spot … the author gain unprecedented access to the notoriously reserved artist.
  • Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind – a 2019 documentary by Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni. It includes reflections by other Canadian celebrities who were inspired or influenced by him, including Randy Bachman, Anne Murray, Sarah McLachlan, Burton Cummings, & Sylvia Tyson.

Tim Forsman – I have had a lifelong love of music and no talent to create it myself. I’ve hosted a radio show, “Jigs, Hoedowns & Songs O’Tragedy,” at Colby College, on WMHB Radio for over 30 years.

TIM’S TUNES: Music from the back of the rack

by Tim Forsman
Colby Radio Host

Gregg Allman

Laid Back
Mercury Records (UMG Recordings) – 2019
(originally released October 1973 – Capricorn Records)

By the start of 1973, Gregg Allman had been through a wild couple of years. The third Allman Brothers Band album, 1971’s double-LP live recording, At Fillmore East, had succeeded in getting the band the recognition they greatly deserved. (And has gone on to be considered among the finest live albums ever recorded).

On October 29, 1971, older brother Duane Allman was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. The ABB’s 1972 album Eat A Peach was dedicated to Duane. But the band was sent into a spin once again when bassist Barry Oakley died in another motorcycle crash just 13 days after the one-year anniversary of Duane’s death.

Gregg Allman

Earlier in ’72, Gregg Allman had been considering a number of songs that he felt didn’t quite fit the band’s style and looked to pull them together as a possible solo album. As the ABB members all stepped back from the turmoil of losing their friends, the opportunity arose for Gregg to record his debut solo album, Laid Back.

As he worked through his grief, including bouts of hard drinking, Gregg was able to pull together the songs that would become the solos album. Giving it a new swampy feel, Gregg revisited the song, Midnight Rider from the second ABB album, Idlewild South. A new song Queen of Hearts would become the strongest addition after band members declined to include it in the forthcoming Brothers And Sisters album (August 1973) . Other new original songs from Gregg included Please Come Home and Multi-Colored Lady.

Gregg added a few choice songs from others to balance off Laid Back. Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing, a 1964 R&B hit from sax player and songwriter Oliver Sain, was a perfect fit for Allman’s voice. Pedal-steel guitar player Scott Boyer’s composition, All My Friends received a Everly Brothers harmony style with Gregg double-tracking the lead and the harmony parts. The closing track was a Christian hymn, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, with local church choir members, studio musicians and staff all contributing to what was later called a “family-fueled, southern choir feeling”

The last cover song included on the album, and what has become one of the best-loved covers recorded by Gregg Allman was These Days. The song was written in 1964 by Clyde Jackson Browne … yes, his real first name is Clyde! It was first recorded in 1965 by Nico, a German singer best known as a member of the group that continuously swirled around the artist, Andy Warhol. Others including Tom Rush, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Kenny Loggins recorded the song prior to 1973. Gregg Allman gave These Days, a new arrangement, and Jackson Browne was later quoted that Allman “made that song twice as good as it was before he sang it.” In his For Everyman album notes, Jackson thanks Allman for the arrangement.

This album was not as far in the Back Of The Rack as this article’s title implies. I own the remastered release that came out in 2019. As with many of these remastered CD releases, the producers/record companies fill the disc with extra material, this CD package not only fills out the original sequence with early “demo” versions of the songs, but also a second disc of more early mixes and outtakes of songs that weren’t included on the original album. This includes another Jackson Browne song Song For Adam, a recording of which would end up on Gregg Allman’s final album, Southern Blood, posthumously released four months after his death in 2017.

The final “extra” on the second CD is a solo live recording of the Allman Brothers band classic Melissa, recorded in April 1974. This last addition makes slogging through the many remixes and demo worth the effort and made for an excellent close to a well-organized and well received reissue of Laid Back.

RIYL – (Recommended If You Like) –

  • Gregg Allman – Southeern Blood Rounder Records – his last recordings, released after his death in 2017. Includes a co-written song, My Only True Friend that stands out among his best songs. Also covers from The Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne and others.
  • Looking Into You – A Tribute to Jackson Browne – Music Road Records (2014). Twenty-three songs covered by a wide variety of singer-songwriters and bands. Includes Don Henley, Lyle Lovett, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Keb’ Mo’, Bruce Springsteen, Shawn Colvin … and more.

Tim Forsman: I have had a lifelong love of music and no talent to create it myself. I’ve hosted a radio show, “Jigs, Hoedowns & Songs O’Tragedy” at Colby College, on WMHB Radio for over 30 years.