Gordon (Meredith) Lightfoot

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Janet Maslin

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Gordon Lightfoot may never seem to be doing anything all that unusual—his melodies tend to be simple, his subjects seldom original, his voice is nice enough but rarely lends itself to anything fancy, and in fact the whole genre he works in is anything but new. But Lightfoot, unlike virtually all other folk artists who started out successful in the early Sixties, has managed to mellow so gracefully (and without any need for a current comeback, or any gratuitous shots at rock and roll) that he's at his absolute strongest right now, as Don Quixote and the album before it [Summer Side of Life] bear witness. Even though—or perhaps because—what he does isn't nearly as unusual as the fact that he does it so well….

[Part] of his appeal must certainly stem from his considerable gift for songwriting, which is easy to underrate. He combines the kind of voice that never seems to do his material justice with deceptive simplicity, a highly sophisticated ear for clever rhyme structures, and a unique knack for elevating subjects that could easily have been mundane. And, prolific as he's been over the past ten years, Lightfoot has never degenerated into hackdom. His writing, like the rest of what goes into his recordings, has improved steadily with age….

Certain structural strains from the past two albums [If You Could Read My Mind and Summer Side of Life] tend to repeat themselves here, such as his use of the opening cut to present the album's dominant image of a romantic, mysterious traveler (here he's Don Quixote, last time the hitchhiking minstrel of "Ten Degrees And Getting Colder"), and the long, ambitious conclusion ("The Patriot's Dream"). In between, he seems to have shifted away from the straight storytelling he handles so well, using more mood pieces than usual (up for "Alberta Bound," down in "Looking At The Rain," and somewhere in between with the slow, dreamy "Christian Island"). (p. 49)

["Second Cup of Coffee" indirectly tells] a story of broken marriage with a typically clever refrain about reaching for the bottle versus reaching for the phone. It's the kind of song that sounds so immediate and familiar that you're certain you must have heard it before, the only question being where. But still it's as original as everything else he does, fresh and unique behind a familiar-sounding facade. I just don't know how he does it.

The fact is I can't quite figure out how he does any of it, really, but I do know that his material never wears out, just gets more interesting all the time. Gordon himself keeps getting better and better, and that's one knack I hope he never loses. (pp. 49-50)

Janet Maslin, in her review of "Don Quixote," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1972; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 107, April 27, 1972, pp. 49-50.

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