James Gordon, |
Pipe Street Dreams
(Wind River, 1999)
Pipe Street Dreams, the new solo effort by Tamarack founder James Gordon, is anything but a pipe dream. Not only did Gordon write and arrange almost all of the songs, he also accompanies himself on a startling and impressive variety of instruments: guitar, mandola, banjo, tin whistle, recorder, trumpet, percussion, synthesizer, organ, prepared piano, vocals, bass, hammered dulcimer, accordion, piano and harmonica. Wow.
The songs are a collection of dreams, musings and stories which have a personal yet universal feeling. Each song has a distinct and original arrangement, masterful lyrics and Gordon's voice is light but not lightweight, warm and very pleasant on the ear.
"Robin Hood's Bay" launches the CD with a lively, frank yet gentle admission of the difficulties inherent in a relationship and the desire of the narrator to take his partner somewhere where they can leave behind the troubles in which they're entrenched. The catchy melody underscores the deceptively simple lyrics which seem very specific -- yet anyone can identify with the sentiments expressed.
"Cedar Strip" is about the narrator getting caught in the grind of working to support a family instead of paddling free in the little canoe purchased in the early years of his marriage. It starts out plaintively, then picks up the pace as the narrator sings about sitting in the canoe in the middle of the garage, imagining himself on the river on a "thousand mile portage." The lyrics are a bit despairing, a bit bewildered, but the harmonica accompaniment keeps a sense of balance and perspective.
The mood shifts with "If You Hear the River Call," a lovely sweet song using a river as a metaphor for a relationship. With piano and accordion weaving throughout, this is a gorgeous love song which will have you feeling mellow and glowing. Don't get too comfortable, though -- the next track is "My Insomnia," where edgy lyrics jitter over congas on a caffeine jag. A trumpet adds a late night jazzy sound. This song doesn't intrude on the previous track; rather, it insinuates itself into your consciousness.
Gordon turns to storytelling mode with "Jumbo's Last Ride," a poignant yet lively song about the friendship between two circus elephants, Jumbo and Tom Thumb, and how Jumbo has a last chance to be an elephant hero. Gordon conveys the story with heart but without sinking into sentimentality. A locomotive-like harmonica adds a rolling rollicking element, but don't be surprised if the story makes you blink back a few tears.
"Coke Oven Brook" is about the steel plant that both supported and literally poisoned a town. The narrator expresses anger that is passionate and focused: "I would take up Enoch's Hammer / And I'd smash that steel plant down / I would leave it just as broken / as it has left this town." This song reminds me very much of "Fisherman's Lament" on Great Big Sea's self-titled album.
A lilting whistle starts off "Far From Our Shieling," based on a poem by John Galt, founder of Gordon's hometown of Guelph, Ontario. The words express a longing for the old world while facing the future with courage and hope. The tone turns urgent with "Did You Already Know," perhaps the most oblique song on the album, about a friend with an inner torment that shapes his life. Gordon then shifts into a bemused and humorous tone slightly touched with cynicism in "Lamas on the Road." This song is about the Tibetan lamas with the incredible voices who were on tour recently, and the juxtaposition of the spiritual world and the material world is deliciously incongruous.
A gentle waltz beat gives an old-fashioned air to the poignant "The Uneeda Rest," a story spun from a postcard of a hotel resort. The next track, "Too Canadian These Days" is an interesting and pointed exercise in Canadian geography and mood and might be more meaningful to Canadian listeners, although perhaps malaise speaks a universal language. In any case, it's a quirky and thought-provoking song.
"Hamilton Beach" is another reminiscence, this time about a summer vacation place lost to development. The specific details give it character, but again, the listener can identify with the sense of it. The accordion and the waltz tempo adds to the nostalgia. The CD closes with "Isn't It Time To Go Home?" about the rigors of being a traveling band. There is bone-weariness in the song, with a chorus that is both plaintive and wry: "Not another tune to carry, Jesus, Peter, Paul and Mary / Isn't it time to go home?"
Gordon avoids the self-consciousness of many singer-songwriters; every song makes a connection with the listener and each is unique. The lyrics sparkle with good poetry and vivid imagery, and the arrangements fit the lyrics perfectly. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite track -- each speaks to me in a different way.
Do you enjoy good songwriting, good musicianship and thoughtful production? Look no farther than Pipe Street Dreams.
[ by Donna Scanlon ]