It’s not surprising that Gordon Lightfoot’s latest album—the 20th of a long and illustrious career—is also his most reflective. After all, Lightfoot has looked death squarely in the eye, having fought his way back from an abdominal hemorrhage in September 2002 that very nearly killed him. Nothing like a brush with the Grim Reaper to put things in perspective.
The songs gathered here revisit many of the themes familiar to fans of Lightfoot’s best work: travel, nature, loneliness and love in all of its many forms. The eerie “Flying Blind” places a northern pilot in peril as he tries to land amid oil rigs, ice caps and polar bears. The stirring “River of Light” conjures up bucolic visions of milkweeds and June bugs and the droning, hypnotic “Couchiching” is a heartfelt tribute to the natural beauty of his hometown of Orillia, once celebrated in his classic ballad “Pussy Willows, Cat-tails.” Meanwhile, love weaves its way through much of the album, from the bittersweet “Harmony” and the plaintive “End of All Time” to the tender confession of “Inspiration Lady.”
But no song reflects Lightfoot’s new resolve better than the backward-glancing “Shellfish.” “You must not be downhearted over things you’ve left undone,” he gently counsels, before urging, “You best not stop—there’s still a ways to go.” Lightfoot’s 20th album is a testament to both a gifted singer-songwriter’s unquestionable artistry and his indomitable work ethic.