Published Mar 20, 2020Twenty-one albums of original material is a hell of an achievement in any artist's career, let alone one as successful across multiple decades as Gordon Lightfoot.
The Canadian icon's latest might not have ever seen the light of day had it not been for the chance discovery of a box of tapes in his Toronto home. The songs they housed date back to the early 2000s, when the singer-songwriter was putting together material for what would become 2004's Harmony, his most recent album.
As its name implies, Solo presents those songs more or less as they were originally recorded. Featuring just Lightfoot, his guitar and minimal overdubs, it's the starkest the singer has ever sounded.
Lightfoot has compared the record's aesthetic to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, though it also shares some of the DNA of Johnny Cash's American records. Yet neither is a fitting approximation.
Rather, the record showcases what Lightfoot has always done and always excelled at: songwriting. Across a surprisingly consistent career (both in terms of sound and quality) he's shown little interest in the sonic explorations of peers like Joni Mitchell or even Bob Dylan.
His voice has aged and the hooks aren't as sharp as they once were, but the lack of production favours the work; the spontaneity of the performances allows them to sidestep the inevitable comparisons to Lightfoot's '70s hits. No wonder he scrapped rewrites and the addition of his longtime backing band. These songs weren't going to sound better than they do here.
It's quite possible that Solo could be Lightfoot's last record. Now 81, he has expressed little interest in writing and recording, preferring instead to concentrate on touring. Yet rather than orchestrating his final artistic statement, à la David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, he's chosen a bunch of 20-year-old recordings as his swan song. We're lucky he bothered to share them with us at all. (Warner)