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Gordon Lightfoot Songbook- Review
on February 19, 2000
I would like to start this review with a formal apologize to Mr. Lightfoot and all the great fellow fans for giving the "Songbook" box set only 3 stars. I bought my copy about half a year ago, just about the official release date. My decision was- to review it only now, after monitoring the amount of airtime this box set gets at my home.
At first, I listened to it quite a lot, enjoying immensely all the previously unreleased songs. But as time past, I noticed I preferred listening to the original albums rather then the box set. "Songbook" is divided chronological by the fine albums Mr. Lighfoot released over the years, while from each album selected songs were compiled for this set. When I heard one set of songs from a certain album moving on to the next album, I found myself too many times awaiting eagerly my favorite songs from that album, but they weren't selected for the box set.
I've noticed one reviewer giving the set 4 stars instead of 5, due to the absence of one song. I didn't think this was fair, since Mr. Lightfoot has created such a spectacular body of work, that the omission of one song in favor of another is more then understandable. But in my view, about 50% of the song selections should have been made in a different manner (not including the unreleased songs, which I consider as gems). In my mind, too many of Mr. Lightfoots most prominent songs that feature this master tunesmith at his best are absent.
Instead of those songs, inferior songs are present. I found myself too many times skipping songs, only to find out that the songs I am actually seeking for are not available on "Songbook". I found them once again on the original albums, which consumed "Songbook"s airtime.
I feel that each fine album of Mr. Lightfoot has its own unique dynamics, its own soul or spirit if you will. A Lightfoot album is best heard as a whole, the songs connecting with each other. This kind of spirit is definitely absent from this compilation, and I think the reason for it lies with the song selection.
In order to demonstrate my point, I will mention a few songs that in my view HAD to be on "Songbook": "Long River", "Oh, Linda", "Walls", "If You Got It", "A Minor Ballad", "Rosanna", "A Minor Ballad", "Home From The Forrest" (one of Mr. Lightfoots best), "Black Day In July" (in my view, one of the 10 best songs he wrote, and one of his most important songs), "Magnificent Outporing", "Does Your Mother Know", "Marie Christie", "Dont Beat Me Down", "Ballad Of Yarmouth Castle" (one of his best), "Minstrel Of The Dawn", "Miguel" (one of his best), "Talking In Your Sleep" (one of his best), "Christian Island", "Looking At The Rain" one of his best), "Ordinary Man" (featuring an excellent unordinary tune), "Circle Of Steel", "The Watchman's Gone", "To Late For Prayin'", "Rainbow Trout", "I'm Not Supposed To Care", and the list goes on.
I would like to point out that I am not writing this out of spite- compiling 88 songs from this mans incredible body of work is an almost impossible mission (also considering the addition of 16 previously unreleased songs + 2 rare songs), but I really think the song selection didn't do justice to this compilation. Lets take for example one of my most favorite Lightfoot albums: "Endless Wire". Only 2 songs from it are on "Songbook", the title song (a good song indeed, but isn't by any means great) and a re-recorded version of "The Circle Is Small"- that's it. Some of Mr. Lightfoots best songs are on this album, and they definitely should have been on "Songbook", namely "Dreamland" (one of his best) , "If The Children Had Wings" (one of his best), "Hangdog Hotel Room" and a strong case could have been made also for "Daylight Katy". In short, this album was neglected.
Other selections are odd, in that in my mind an inferior song was preferred over a much better song (what is "The Mountains And Maryann" doing here?). I would also like to point out that some more "simpler" songs were selected, that are in many cases the usual suspect for "best of" Lightfoot compilations, but in my view are inferior songs (especially compared to the songs I mentioned above as missing from "Songbook).
One major feature of "Songbook" that I marveled at and makes me proud to own this set is the superb sound quality- simply amazing. It is a joy to hear some of my favorite songs (that are here- don't get me wrong, I said 50%, and not 100% of the song selection is off key) like "Sit Down Young Stranger" at this sound quality- pure pleasure.
Another excellent feature of "Songbook" is the hardcover book, featuring great photos of Mr. Lightfoot throughout his career including comments of the master himself on his songs. Despite this, the packaging of this set would also get 3 stars, in that that it's incomplete. The sleeves of the separate jewel boxes are mere one-page "fliers", that don't do any justice to this set. The sleeve space could have been used as booklets containing more photos, additional material (such as articles about Mr. Lightfoot from trade magazines of that time) or if budget strains won't permit it, than at least the lyrics. After all, Mr. Lightfoot himself said that his songs are like "painting through the use of lyrics"- and those should have been here.
In conclusion, despite the fact that "Songbook" could have been much better, it is a must have for long time fans, with 16 "new" songs and quite a few debuting on CD format with superb sound quality. This is also a must for folks new to Mr. Lightfoot, who can obtain with this item all his major hits and the well known songs.