Mining For Gold:
Only one of many underrated voices in Canadian folk, singer-songwriter James Gordon ranks near the top. A founding member of one of Canada's pre-eminent folk-trios in Tamarack, Gordon has established himself through extensive touring and a string of 14 albums. Now solo, Gordon still focuses his songwriting on topics of Canadian life, both traditional and contemporary, and says a good deal about the human condition in the process. A retrospective of Gordon's best over the last 20 years, Mining for Gold collects 38 songs from his extensive catalogue. |
Disc 1 is comprised of songs written during his tenure with Tamarack. Many of Gordon's most memorable early songs are well documented here. From an a cappela rendition of Frobisher Bay to a duet with Cowboy Junkie Margo Timmins on the title track, we see the best of Gordon's standout work. No doubt, there is an intuitive appeal in Gordon's ruminations on traditional themes such as trains, gold miners, and farm life, but Gordon does just as well with contemporary themes, with his portrayal of lottery winners in Stuart and Lillian and the newfound awkwardness of their lives. When dealing with serious topics, like the bleak Fields of Rock and Snow and the tragic flood tale in Tugboat Days, Gordon always colors his characters with the utmost respect and humanity, utilizing startlingly vibrant and intense imagery to put the listener in the middle of their plight. Though joined by a large cast of musicians, Gordon almost renders their presence unnecessary, playing guitar, harmonica, pennywhistle, banjo, piano, accordion, and hammered dulcimer.
Dwelling on Gordon's solo material, the second disc does a better job showing his eclectic approach to songwriting. With the world beat experimentation of Looking For Livingstone, which Gordon points out was actually recorded before Paul Simon had similar inclinations, we see a songwriter who isn't limited by genre restrictions. As he juxtaposes tales of gypsies and prairies with childhood memories and lonely travel journals, Gordon shows himself to be a first-rate poet. Small town ideals triumph in feisty protests like This Poor Old Village and Back Before Wal-Mart, where Gordon poignantly illustrates the advance of commercial interests at the expense of the traditional way of life.
To be honest, James Gordon doesn't have much dynamic appeal as an arranger or performer. His songs tend to be a little too easy-going in light of their evocative weight, and he really doesn't have what could be termed his own distinct sound. And while he maintains a comfortable distance from being termed bland, his sound tends to linger a little too close to the John Denver end of the folk continuum. That being said, the man is easily one of the greatest songwriters I've heard in recent years and is worth searching out on the strength of those talents alone.