Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot

Tony Rice

(ROUN 0370)
Rounder Records
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140

A review for The Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
By Jeff Wenning


Tony Rice Sings Gordon Lightfoot might be described as a fine Canadian whiskey that's been redistilled. Tony Rice has reformulated Canadian Gordon Lightfoot's material into a distinctly flavored brew that's more like well aged Bourbon, and goes down just as smoothly. In the process he's turned up the wick just a bit, giving a noticeable increase in tempo to most of the original Lightfoot recordings. Helping flavor the libation are (to name but a few) Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Gaudreau and brother Wyatt Rice.

Well known as a master of the flat picking guitar style, Tony Rice also possesses a fine baritone voice which he uses to full advantage with the Lightfoot material. Tony's vocals are less forlorn and romantic than Lightfoot's--more straight ahead, without the minstrel/troubadour imaging. His vocal phrasing and emphasis is unique, but still pays homage to the Lightfoot originals. Unlike Lightfoot's folk-influenced storytelling singing style, Rice sounds more like he's reading aloud to himself from his personal journal. It's these subtle vocal differences that make their versions distinct.

There's little subtlety in the instrumental differences, however. Tony Rice's versions are without a doubt bluegrass/newgrass, and contain some of the finest musicianship you'll find. On the Rice versions, I heard the type of instrumental breaks the Lightfoot versions used to tease you with, but never quite fully followed through on. The musicians on this collection are given the opportunity to stand apart from, float behind, and dance around the vocals. In the process, they give a drive to these songs with explosive solos and tastefully crafted accompaniments that brought me smile after (envious) smile. Frankly, it took me 5 or 6 listenings to this CD before I could pry my focus away from the marvelous instrumentals and begin to fully enjoy the entire product.

This recording is a compilation of material previously released by Rice and includes one unreleased outtake ("Whispers of the North") from Me and My Guitar. With a generous 17 tracks spanning nearly 54 minutes, Rounder serves up the whole Rice/Lightfoot platter. An excellent collection from beginning to end, I was particularly struck by Rice's cozy, mellow treatment of "Shadows." This is immediately followed by the blood-rushing, up-tempo opening to "Walls," which features a dynamic dobro/guitar solo which flows seamlessly from one instrument into the next.

"Whispers of the North" may be my favorite track on the CD. Done in the verse/chorus/ instrumental break pattern, it's a showcase for mandolin/guitar/dobro. It's the only song to employ drums, worked in pace with mandolin and piano to provide the feeling that your riding a steam locomotive through the snowy Canadian territories.

Other noteworthy tracks include the pleading "Go My Way," "Sixteen Miles," "Cold on the Shoulder" (w/Bela Fleck on banjo), and the mellifluous "Song for a Winter's Night." So take a taste of Tony Rice's home brew. Whether you sip it slowly or shoot it down fast, it's a pleasing elixir that makes you shiver, then produces a warm body rush.

[Editied by: Shawn Linderman]

Copyright, 1996 by Jeffrey A. Wenning and the Three Rivers Folklife Society.
It may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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