Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mellow, Memorable, And Meaningful: Endless Wire Is Full Of Hooks!

The Good: Good voice, Good musical variety, Some wonderful lyrics
The Bad: SHORT!
The Basics: Despite a dated sound on some of the more rock-oriented tracks, Endless Wire holds up remarkably well as an experimental Gordon Lightfoot album!

When I sit down and choose an Artist Of The Month, I try to divorce my experience from any hype that might surround the artists. When I chose Gordon Lightfoot as my February 2015 Artist Of The Month and reviewed Lightfoot! (that review is here!), I knew virtually nothing about the artist and I liked that; it makes for a very pure review. As I sat down to review Endless Wire, though, I accidentally read some information about the album. Apparently, Endless Wire marked a turning point in the marketability of Gordon Lightfoot albums and it’s all downhill from here for his career – at least as far as selling albums goes.

I’m not actually sure why that happened to Lightfoot; Endless Wire is a surprisingly hip album and while it was released in 1978, some of the tracks – most notably – rock like late ‘80s rock and roll. It’s possible that Gordon Lightfoot was ahead of his time. I suppose it is equally probable that the musical experimentation that Endless Wire possessed mortgaged the audience that made Lightfoot big (it is much more produced and instrumentally filled out than his early works). Regardless, despite the very short duration of the album, Endless Wire holds up decently even now!

With only ten songs, clocking out at 34:37, Endless Wire is entirely the work of singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot provided all of the lead vocals on the songs and he plays guitar (six, twelve, or high-string or electric, depending upon the track!) all of the songs. Rather predictably, by this point in Lightfoot’s career (this was his thirteenth studio album), Gordon Lightfoot wrote and composed all ten songs. He also co-produced Endless Wire. This is very much his artistic vision as it stood in 1977 when it was recorded and 1978, when the album was released.

Endless Wire has a very evolved sound for Gordon Lightfoot. Far from the initial sound of “one man and a guitar,” Endless Wire is musically rich. “Songs The Minstrel Sang” actually sounds like a post-“Achy Breaky Heart” Country/Pop song, dominated as it is by the electric guitar and a recognizable volume of percussion in the song. “Daylight Katy” is pure pop, as is “Sometimes I Don’t Mind;” “If Children Had Wings” is a lullaby and “Sweet Guinevere” is a classic ballad. No two songs sound quite the same on Endless Wire and the musical variety opens Lightfoot up to a more orchestral song. Instead of “One Man And A Guitar,” songs like “Sometimes I Don’t Mind” have a full orchestra sound, as Lightfoot is backed by sax and a pretty pounding piano part. Obviously, commenting from hindsight is weird, but I’m not sure (by the sound) why Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t competing with Hall & Oats with his track “The Circle Is Small.”

Vocally, Gordon Lightfoot is pretty direct, mellow, and fairly familiar. Except on “Endless Wire,” where Lightfoot sounds like John Mellencamp, the songs on Endless Wire all have Gordon Lightfoot singing with his straightforward vocals. By this point in his career, he was able (or willing) to go a little lower than he usually did, but for the most part, he stays in a comfortable, mid-to-higher-register for his vocals. What struck me, leaping as I did from his first album to this one, was how few times he really holds notes on Endless Wire.

What makes Endless Wire so worthwhile even now are the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot. Lightfoot manages to bring his sense of Folk music storytelling even to dramatically different musical styles on Endless Wire. Retelling and reimagining the story of Robin Hood, Lightfoot sings “His aim was mean and his shot was clean / And his suit was the shade of evergreen / The folks he knew hadn't naught to fear / When the sheriff was there they were over here / Hi derry doon in the month of June / Was the song the minstrel sung / To the good of Robin Hood's / Good name and a place to run” (“Songs The Minstrel Sang”) and it is pretty wonderful!

If anything plagues the lyrics on Endless Wire, it is a sense of repetition. On the opening track, “Daylight Katy,” Lightfoot repeats “come on” a hypnotic number of times. Similarly, on “Hangdog Hotel Room,” the listener gets repeated rhymes like “Oh Lord it feels so good to play a nighttime tune / So pass the jar and that old guitar in this hangdog hotel room.” It’s not bad; it just causes the album to hold up a little less-well on high repeat!

Like many of Gordon Lightfoot’s tracks, Endless Wire includes songs that make complex and compelling emotions simple and musical. With the lines “If there's a chance for someone else / To make you feel life is worth livin' / Give it a try oh lady / Just let me know and I'll move on / Home is where the heart is / But at times a good home must be broken / The wine has grown bitter / From the harsh words we have spoken” (“If There’s A Reason”), Lightfoot captures perfectly the emotional sense of surrender that virtually anyone who has been divorced or witnessed a bad marriage between their parents can understand perfectly! Lightfoot is a wonderful writer.

And what there is of Endless Wire is suitably impressive. It is a rare album that just leaves the listener wanting more and for such a prolific artist as Gordon Lightfoot, it is unfortunate that there is not more for us!

The best track is hard to pick – this is an album where almost all of the songs are wonderful, each for a different reason. If I had to pick one that was essential from the album, I’d go with “Sometimes I Don’t Mind;” the weak link is the unmemorable “Dreamland.”

For other, prior, Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Tunnel Of Love - Bruce Springsteen
Covers - James Taylor
Any Day Now - Joan Baez


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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