various artists,
Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot
(Borealis/Northern Blues, 2003)

Beautiful is a collaboration between Borealis and Northern Blues Records featuring artists from Canada (and one American) who were influenced by Gordon Lightfoot. The only song not written by him was a heartfelt tribute by Aengus Finnan. Beautiful will be enjoyed by those familiar with Lightfoot who are open to hearing different versions of his songs or those looking for great music while discovering some "new" artists.

As I grew up listening to many singer-songwriters, I am familiar with Lightfoot's work. Some versions of his songs sound like the original, while others are drastically different. Lightfoot said in an interview with Billboard, "I love this tribute. Some of the artists have outdone me on songs. There are so many great takes." I would agree there are some great versions of his songs including a rock-influenced version of "Summer Side of Life" and a lovely folk/jazz version of "If You Could Read My Mind." I also enjoyed "Black Day in July," in which the singing and playing is harsh -- this seems quite appropriate as the song is about the 1967 Detroit race riots.

However, as I am not a big fan of the blues, country music or the sound of steel guitars, dobros, slide guitars and the like, I did not care for some of the instrumentation on songs such as "Sundown" and "Bend in the Water." I thought "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy" was almost ruined. It started wonderfully with a guitar, banjo and vocals but at about three minutes into the song, there IT was: the Twang. Thankfully, the pedal steel guitar was only played briefly and the latter part of the song featured uillean pipes and a tin whistle. Whew ... a bit of a Celtic twist to the rescue!

The recording quality of the album is superb. Every voice and instrument is easily heard. The CD comes with a lengthy booklet -- not just simple liner notes. Each group or singer who appears on the album has their own page with an explanation of how they were influenced by Lightfoot and/or their thoughts about the song they performed.

The artists who performed on this album showed great respect for Lightfoot and are deserving of respect and attention for their own work. They are Cowboy Junkies, Jesse Winchester, Ron Sexsmith, Bruce Cockburn, Blue Rodeo, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Connie Kaldor, Terry Tufts, Henry Manx, the Tragically Hip, Murray McLauchlan, Maria Muldaur, James Keelaghan, Quartette and Aengus Finnan.

There are songs and artists to suit many musical tastes from lovers of country music (or not) to folk, rock, blues, jazz, Celtic and others. This shows the diversity and influence of Lightfoot's songs -- they cross many musical genres and continue to inspire musicians. Recommended.

- Rambles
written by Erika S. Rabideau
published 3 April 2004

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