Various Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot

Tribute albums are, by their very nature, uneven, typically mediocre affairs. Even the solid, most consistent ones only tend to earn that distinction by demonstrating an aptitude for getting back on the inspired track after inevitably falling down. Accordingly, this first-ever tribute to Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot spends a lot of its time on its arse, and even its upright portions tend to sleepwalk and slouch. That’s too bad, given the richness and versatility of the material project organisers had to work with. For starters, unless the intention really is to lull listeners to sleep, never start off a disc with the Cowboy Junkies. When paying tribute to a folk artist, don’t just hire other folk artists. Mix it up a little. Surely someone as hugely inspirational as Lightfoot must have stimulated a shit-load of artists beyond the mandolin-toting singer/songwriter set? And how about a few more female artists? Quartette’s dreamy version of "Song for a Winter’s Night” and Connie Kaldor’s elegantly minimalist "If You Could Read My Mind” are among the best tracks here. Why? Because they don’t sound like mere efforts to ape the man of the hour. That said, there are other moments that work here, too: Blue Rodeo, Ron Sexsmith, the Tragically Hip and Harry Manx all succeed (to varying degrees) in making their chosen Lightfoot titles their own. Meanwhile, Jesse Winchester goes a little too far in that direction ultimately distilling the heart and soul out of that most familiar, Canadian gem "Sundown.” (Too much chicken-scratch guitar and over enunciating of "you bet-ter take care” will do that to a classic.) Hardcore Lightfoot (now there’s an idea!) fans will appreciate the depth of song selection here. Similarly, those whose appreciation begins and ends with Gord’s Gold are bound to wonder where all the hits are. They may not be the only ones disappointed, either: The photo on the back of the CD case appears to depict a grimacing Lightfoot looking up at the track listing and covering his ears. (Borealis)