Gordon Lightfoot Book, Music and More!

The home of music journalist Nicholas Jennings, author of Lightfoot, the definitive new Gordon Lightfoot biography from Penguin Random House.

Liner Notes: Paul Quarrington - The Songs

It’s the inevitable fate of a multi-faceted artist as ridiculously talented as Paul Quarrington that one creative field should overshadow the others. In Paul’s case, his musical career was rudely hijacked by his literary success. Long before the awards for fiction, humour and screenplays, Paul was a musician—and an extremely good one. He played bass and sang in the eccentric cult-rock band Joe Hall & the Continental Drift, a band his guitarist brother Tony once described as “an acquired taste that no one acquired.” He wrote songs, played guitar and sang with lifelong friend Martin Worthy in the underrated folk duo Quarrington Worthy—even scoring a number one hit in 1980 with “Baby and th...

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Liner Notes: The Ugly Ducklings – Too Much Too Soon

uglyducklingsOn a spring night in 1965, a warm breeze blew along Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue, carrying with it a strange mixture of scents: rich coffee, pungent marijuana and noxious automobile exhaust. Cars crawled along the one-way street between Bay and Avenue Road, past sidewalks filled with teenagers in Beatlecuts and miniskirts. Some sat on café patios, others strolled along the tree-lined boulevard or hung out on doorsteps. Boys watching girls watching boys.

Like flowers in a hothouse, the musicians in Yorkville thrived on the responses of those who flocked to hear them. There was literally something for everyone: the traditional jazz of Jim McHarg & his Metro Stompers at the Penny Farthing, the delicate ballads of Joni Mitchell at the New Gate of Cleve, the blues folk of John Kay at the Half Beat and the stirring songs of Gordon Lightfoot at the Riverboat.

Meanwhile, the new pop sound had infiltrated the village, with British-influenced bands everywhere: Jack London & the Sparrows at the Café El Patio, Dee & the Yeomen up at the Night Owl and the hard-rocking Ugly Ducklings

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Liner Notes: Adrian Miller – Rude Boy on the Bus

For some people, ska music died with the passing of Britain’s two-tone movement in the 1980s. But they only knew it as a post-punk dance craze anyway. As Jamaica’s peppy precursor to reggae, pioneered by legends like Jackie Mittoo, Don Drummond and Prince Buster, ska has a long and vibrant history whose influence still reverberates today.

In England, the ska banner was first held high by Desmond Dekker, a Jamaican singer whose songs “007 (Shanty Town)” and the classic “The Israelites” sent syncopated shock waves across radioland in the 1970s. By the end of the decade, ska was bubbling up big time in Old Blighty, with two-toners The Specials and The English Beat opening for the likes of Elvis Costello and The Clash.

Into those heady days stepped Adrian Miller, Mr. Rude Boy himself, a young Jamaican who found England’s music scene totally inspiring. “The whole climate was more experimental than what was going on back home,” recalls Miller. “There were older musicians like Saxa and Rico, who had first started doing ska back in Jamaica, playing with young groups like The Beat and The Specials. It was an amazing time.”

 

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Live

brucecockburn liveOver the years, Bruce Cockburn concerts have evolved from solo performances in moccasins into full-band gigs in army boots. In the beginning, Cockburn travelled around in an old camper truck, a vagabond poet with acoustic guitar in hand and faithful dog, Aroo, at his feet. During the ’80s, he and his group toured in a large streamlined bus, dressed like urban guerrillas wielding an arsenal of electric instruments. By the end of that decade—and for much of the next—Cockburn downsized and performed with just a pair of talented sidemen. But as his superb live recordings reveal, regardless of the era or the size of his entourage, Cockburn’s concerts are always a wonder to behold: expansive, entrancing and full of surprises.

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Big Circumstance

brucecockburn bigcircumstanceThe result of three years of traveling to such far-flung places as Mozambique, Nepal and Central America, the songs on 1989’s Big Circumstance reflect Bruce Cockburn’s heartfelt reactions to war, repression and environmental abuse. The celebrated Canadian singer-songwriter was already well known for such forthright songs of the 1980s as “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Call it Democracy.” With Big Circumstance, Cockburn ended the decade with some of the most politically potent material of his career, including “If a Tree Falls,” which tackled the issue of rain forest destruction. “From Sarawak to Amazonas, Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills,” he sang angrily, “ancient cord of coexistence hacked by parasitic greedhead scam.” The accompanying video—one of Cockburn’s best—didn’t pull any punches either.
   

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Circles in the Stream

brucecockburn circlesOne of the marks of a great live album is the ability of the artist to inject his material with new vitality, to the point where even well-known songs take on fresh meaning. Bruce Cockburn did exactly that with Circles in the Stream, which caught the Canadian folksinger at the culmination of his first tour with a full band. That group provided the kind of intelligent and intuitive accompaniment that creates an inspired—and inspiring—concert experience. “It’s amazing to hear how tight we are together,” percussionist Bill Usher once recalled, on hearing the recording. “We’re all hitting the same accents at the same time and in harness with each other.”

Recorded in the spring of 1977 at Toronto’s venerable Massey Hall, Circles in the Stream captures Cockburn at the peak of his creative powers. Originally released shortly after Cockburn’s fine transitional album In the Falling Dark, the live recording blends adventurous jazz textures with his more familiar folk influences. The album opens with the stirring sound of a traditional Scottish tune on bagpipes, before Cockburn and his sidemen—Usher, bassist Robert Boucher and electric pianist and marimba player Pat Godfrey—segue into a shimmering rendition of “Starwheel.” Following a marimba-laced version of the stark “Never So Free,” Cockburn launches into three newly written songs: the stunning guitar instrumental “Deer Dancing Round a Broken Mirror,” the dreamy, jazz-tinged French song “Homme Brûlant (Burning Man)” and the rhythmic, politically charged number “Free to Be.”

Two other new songs rank among the album’s highlights. Like “Deer Dancing,” the wondrously intricate instrumental “Cader Idris,” named after a Welsh mountain which means “Chair of Idris,” showcases Cockburn’s superb fingerpicking and fretwork. “Red Brother Red Sister” acknowledges the historic

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - High Winds White Sky

brucecockburn highwindsThe stark black and white cover photo speaks volumes about Bruce Cockburn in the early 1970s. He stands alone at the foot of a bridge, surrounded by snow-capped trees, looking like what writer Jack Batten then described as a “splendid survivor of Robin Hood’s merry men dressed in leather jerkins and boot-high moccasins.” At the time, the rising singer-songwriter possessed a deep fascination with the wilderness and things medieval—especially Renaissance music. And although already on a quest, Cockburn had not yet embraced his particular brand of Christianity. He was, in his own words, a “spiritual loner who sought truth in nature.” 

Images and references to rivers, birds, mountains and, especially, sunlight abound on 1971’s High Winds White Sky—as they do on Cockburn’s previous self-titled debut album and the subsequent Sunwheel Dance. The three albums formed a powerful acoustic trilogy that established Cockburn as one of Canada’s most important performers of introspective, literate songs. Unfortunately, they also typecast him as a pastoral folkie, an image that Cockburn found ultimately restricting. For one thing, his tastes went well beyond just folk into country blues and global music. And his interests led him to Buddhist teachings, from the Beat writers to the Sutras themselves. Blending all of those elements, High Winds White Sky remains a landmark recording—as fresh and

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Humans

brucecockburn humansRanked by many people as Bruce Cockburn’s best album, Humans is a watershed release in the acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter’s stellar career. It came in the midst of tumultuous change in Cockburn’s life, following the breakup of his 10-year marriage and his move from the country to the city. After a decade of rural existence, living in a camper and then settling in tiny Burritt’s Rapids, south of Ottawa, the longtime loner took up residence in downtown Toronto. It was, he told reporters at the time, a deliberate test of his faith. “I moved with the express purpose of absorbing myself in human society to see what it was,” said Cockburn. “If, as a Christian, I was being asked to love my fellow human beings, I couldn’t love them very well if I didn’t know anything about them.”

    With 1980’s Humans, Cockburn challenged himself musically as well as spiritually. The album represented the first of his more electric, rock-oriented releases, after the trilogy of acoustic jazz folk recordings that culminated in 1979’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. The latter produced the reggae-flavored “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which became a Top 40 hit in both Canada and the United States. Where “Lions” featured the rhythm section of Jamaican star Leroy Sibbles’ group, Humans’ anthemic “Rumours of Glory,” with its bouncy bass, added the reggae legend himself on backup vocals. Cockburn, wielding an electric guitar and backed by such new band members as violinist Hugh Marsh and keyboardist Jon Goldsmith, infused the entire album with a tougher, more uptempo sound. “I really wanted to play reggae music and rock ’n’ roll,” he

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - In the Falling Dark

brucecockburn fallingdarkIf an artist’s worth can be gauged by the degree to which his artistry evolves, then Bruce Cockburn’s value has grown immeasurably with each passing album. Over the course of 32 years and nearly as many recordings, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter has always pushed the musical envelope. Never one to rest on his creative laurels, he has constantly tried on new ideas without ever abandoning the fabric of earlier material. The result is a rich body of work—deep, diverse and never disappointing—that stands the test of time and includes some of the most sophisticated and evocative songs in pop music.

    Originally released in 1976, In the Falling Dark was the first of a trilogy of recordings that bridged Cockburn’s acoustic work of the early ’70s with his electric period a decade later. Stylistically adventurous, it featured more jazz textures than folk influences, reflecting Cockburn’s long-time love of John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, and showcased the daring, improvisational interplay of flute and horns. In the Falling Dark was also the first collection of songs that fully explored Cockburn’s deepening Christian faith, with numerous songs of praise and worship. But, far from fundamentalist or evangelical in tone, those songs—like all of his spiritual material—could be

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Liner Notes: Bruce Cockburn - Inner City Front

brucecockburn innercityThe best artists—not flavour-of-the-week pretenders, but ones who view art as life’s work—know that reinvention is a necessary part of the creative process. Think of the chameleon-like transformations of David Bowie, Bob Dylan or even U2; each has redefined themselves at key points in their careers. Cynics might charge opportunism, but there’s real danger involved with such moves, including risking one’s traditional audience. Truth is, artists need to follow their muse—to say nothing of the need to reflect new circumstances in their lives. All of this brings about changes.

    For Canada’s Bruce Cockburn, the months leading up to Inner City Front’s 1981 release had been fraught with change: his marriage of 10 years dissolved, leading him to switch from country to city life. Taking an apartment in downtown Toronto, he assembled a band of crack musicians and adopted a more rugged, urban sound. Gone were most traces of the Gentle Folkie of the late 1960s and even the Mystic Christian of the ’70s. In their place was the New Wave Cockburn of the ’80s, highly politicized and sporting both a leather jacket and an electric guitar. A tour of Italy with bandmates Hugh Marsh, Jon Goldsmith, Kathryn Moses, Dennis Pendrith and Bob DiSalle exposed him to new audiences and provided fresh inspiration. “I’d lost touch with what it felt like to play

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