In most cases, it is easier to write about tribute albums than listen to them. A review can either stress the qualities of the artist being paid homage to and to his generally glorious past, or concentrate on the great performers that fill the CD. In most cases tribute album results are way below the original recordings, as the tribute album tends to include disparate genres with varying levels of performance. In the past few years we have begun seeing genre-oriented tributes, such as a bluegrass tribute to Bob Dylan and in another case a country & western tribute to Leonard Cohen. The Lightfoot tribute reflects more of a geographical orientation rather than being organized with stylistic homogeneity in mind.
Having said that, Beautiful is a Canadian tribute to Gordon Lightfoot that could only broadly be categorized as folk-rock. The CD starts with an electrifying and convincing version of the mega hit The Way I Feel by the Cowboy Junkies. Margo Timmins' voice as always carries echoes of Nico. The Cowboy Junkies' music is also reminiscent of the Velvet Underground circa their collaborations with the junkie German chanteuse. From here on things calm down even more with acoustic versions of Lightfoot's songs. We get convincing performances by Jesse Winchester, Bruce Cockburn, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, and James Keelaghan with a 7+ minute version of Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Other performers fare less well, and I was especially disappointed by one of my favorite singer-songwriters of the last few years, Ron Sexsmith, whose cover of Drifters left me unconvinced.
Before writing this review I decided to listen to the CD at least ten times. I did it even more times than that. The experience, although not celestial, is a very nice one. The covers and songs flow one after the other like a great radio show you would love to hear on the highway while traveling to see your sweetheart. However, none of the versions here are better than the imposing and direct voice of Lightfoot's original recordings, and not one of the songs here fare with the best original career-spanning recordings of the artists involved. None of the interpretations of Lightfoot's work are as definitive as Joe Cocker singing With a Little Help from My Friends, or Janis Joplin singing Me and Bobbie McGee.
I guess that I should know by now, this is more or less the best we can expect from a tribute album. If a record label should wait to gather the best versions of a specific writer's songs as performed by other artists, it may take 50 years to pay proper tribute. Anyway if you have bought this album because of the artists performing the songs by Lightfoot and this is the first time you've heard Gord's name, I urge you to buy some of the original Lightfoot CDs, especially the recordings of the late 60's and 70's. He is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the twentieth century and was one of the artists who invented the sensitive male lover that many of us men have been trying to learn to be these days.
Page design by David N. Pyles