Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not A Masterwork Album, Sundown Still Has Some Of Lightfoot’s Best Works!

The Good: Good voice, Good sound, Some wonderful lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Not a great amount of musical variety, Works better as a collection of singles than an album.
The Basics: Sundown might be the album that has the best, most recognizable Gordon Lightfoot singles, but it might not be his best album ever.

In my study of any given musical artist, I find that I run into weird conundrums with a fair amount of regularity. In the case of Gordon Lightfoot, the single “Sundown” got me into listening to Lightfoot and now that I’ve picked up the album Sundown, I figured I should be happy as a clam. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that the album with the most recognizable singles by an artist is that artist’s best album. However, having just listened to Endless Wire (reviewed here!) on heavy repeat, Sundown does not hold together nearly as well as an album. Sundown certainly has more iconic singles and some of the poetry is more clear and great, but the album has a much less experimental nature and thus comes across as somewhat musically bland.

Sundown is best known for the singles “Sundown” and “Carefree Highway” (a song whose lyrics I never heard right until I had Sundown on heavy replay). Beyond that, none of the songs have the same level of hook to them. That’s not to say that Sundown is a bad album, but it is definitely driven up based on the strength of the two commercial singles.

With only ten songs, clocking out at 36:12, Sundown is short, like most LP records-converted-to-c.d. Sundown was Gordon Lightfoot’s tenth studio album, so it came at a time in his career when Lightfoot had almost complete creative control. As a result, Lightfoot wrote and composed all of the songs on the album. Gordon Lightfoot provided both lead and backing vocals, as well as most of the guitar tracks. The only major function Gordon Lightfoot does not perform on Sundown is producing the album. Still, it seems like Sundown is very much the album Lightfoot intended to create.

Vocally, Gordon Lightfoot sings smoothly and melodically on Sundown. While he goes lower on “Sundown,” he is within his more familiar – higher – range on most of the tracks. What is notable about the vocals on Sundown is that Lightfoot does not enunciate on all the tracks as well. “Carefree Highway” is a song with frequently misheard lines.

Instrumentally, Sundown is an interesting transition album between classic folk (which has a “one man and a guitar” sound much of the time) and classic rock. Lightfoot is accompanied on most of the songs by bass guitar, drums, and piano. The result is a richer sound than most folk albums. Sundown has songs that have distinctive tunes to them, something frequently lacking from today’s music. Lightfoot knows how to create a melody, harmony and musical themes over the course of almost all of the ten songs.

As one might expect from Gordon Lightfoot, Lightfoot has something to say on Sundown. Lightfoot sings musical storysongs on almost all of the tracks and they are impressive. The sense of foreboding on the title track is poetically-realized with the wonderful lines “I can see her lying back in her satin dress / In a room where you do what you don't confess / Sundown, you better take care / If I find you been creeping 'round my back stairs . . . She's been looking like a queen in a sailor's dream / And she don't always say what she really means / Sometimes I think it's a shame / When I get feeling better when I'm feeling no pain” (“Sundown”) set to one of the most distinctive bass tracks of all time!

“Too Late For Prayin’” stands out on Sundown. The song, which has the darker lyrics “Nothin' left but promises / Nothin' much is certain / All we see is want and need across the board, why thank you lord / We're livin' in the glory of your care / Skies of blue have all turned brown / To the sound of cryin / Lord abide, let us stem the tide / Of broken dreams / Sometimes you seem to tell us / It's too late for prayin'” (“Too Late For Prayin’”) has an uncharacteristic honesty to it. Lightfoot has a strong sense of realism and the moodiness of the song illustrates Lightfoot’s power as a songwriter.

That said, “High And Dry” is a little repetitive. Lightfoot sings “Singin' why, me oh my, is there a better man than I? / I hope you find your way back home, / before you're lyin, high and dry, / I hope you find your way back home before you die” (“High And Dry”) over and over for such a short song. “High And Dry” is an exception to the rule.

Sundown is a good album, but its strong singles definitely make the album better. Amid such distinctive songs as the singles found on virtually every compilation for Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown has an equal number of unmemorable tracks. The result should be a very average album, but “Sundown” is just that good of a song; it brings up the whole album.

The best song on the album is “Sundown,” the low point is the unmemorable “Circle Of Steel.”

For other, prior, Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Are Men - Barenaked Ladies
Hotter Than July - Stevie Wonder
18 Singles - U2


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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