James Gordon,
(Borealis, 2004)

Canada is one of the greatest producers of good contemporary music, and a top export is James Gordon. Reading the notes accompanying this album, we appreciate the virtuosity of the man. Not only is he writing some excellent songs, but he appears to be a one-man band playing everything from guitar and banjo to piano, harmonica and trumpet.

He opens this great collection with a musical documentary cum travelogue on the life and times of the contemporary performer on "Small Town Prairie Gigs." The lyrics paint a life combining hard work and fun with the infinite variety of venues and receptions. The inclusion of some lovely familiar musical pieces enhances the track.

He does not shy away from modern reality in his writing, and the thought-provoking "Randal Dooley" deserves strong airplay to remind us of the problems of modern home life.

The top song for me is one that reminds us of the power of the music we love (if we read reviews here). Throughout the centuries folk music has been driving home the need for social conscience, often hiding the message in the "long grass" of intelligent lyrics and captivating tunes. Even the title "Weapons of Mass Instruction" is a magnificent ironic pun. On first reading the track list I misread it for the more obvious. As Gordon reminds us, "Once an entire generation sang of our discontent" but now in our "privilege and our complacence, in our cynicism too we decided our hands are tied." He then reminds us that we have at our disposal many weapons for mass instructions from videos to songs like this.

He is a master of the story-song and demonstrates it on "The Queen of the Bingo Palace," letting us glimpse once again into the lives of the ordinary people who far outnumber the celebrities, politicians and reality TV residents of the planet.

Spirituality is not rooted in organized religion but in the soul, and his hymn to nature on "Carlyle Lake" should be required listening. "No dogma, no doctrine, just a quiet walk in the forest cathedral's all I need."

Like all good writers he has a sense of humour and uses it to effect in a self-deprecatory "Just Like Davey Jones," reminding us of all who took up the cheap guitars and "trendy" clothes in the late 1960s with dreams of musical stardom. Another track that should get wide airplay is "Mesopotamia," which reminds us that, despite recent history and the politicians' supposed recentering of civilisation, it started there.

This album is an excellent investment. James Gordon is the voice and writing talent to bring folk music back to the world just as Dylan and his contemporaries in the 1960s stirred us to think with music.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 27 November 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.