Treading Lightly Through the Mist
Everyone loves a good tribute. And though A Gourd of Gold might not advertise it expressly by it’s title, Baltimore-based Arbouretum are certainly admirers of Gordon Lightfoot’s music. This EP, another release in the Latitudes series issued by Southern Records, is comprised of four Lightfoot cove songs. It endeavors to remind a new generation of Lightfoot’s underrated songwriting prowess.
Though the performances don’t really attempt to expand too adventurously on the compositions, there is a definite sense that there is more “flesh” here, so to speak, which gives each tune a very subtle edge. So subtle is this edge that the music, calmly and precisely layered as it is, might at times find you nodding off. And that’s not a knock. There is an aura of serenity in each song, which seems to be one of the most endearing traits of folk-inspired music, and when you have the eleven minute opener, “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald,” with its delicate progressions and restrained melody, you get the feeling that you are safe, drinking a hot tea inside a big warm house while a blizzard rages outside.
Clearly, “The Wreck” is the obvious show-piece, with its sailor’s lament of a real-life tragedy (on Lake Superior in 1975) in ballad form. The little guitar licks between verses add a thick layer of melodrama to the proceedings in a way very similar to what Guns n’ Roses did with a similarly soul-churning lengthy track, “Estranged.” And like any other narrative song, the appeal might be lost on many modern audiences. But as a performance, it is a nice one.
Though the three other tracks showcase more range, they pale in comparison to the carefully handled opener. “Carefree Highway” has a good ol’ boy country jaunt to it, and is sung well. Its agreeable and steady beat seems a little out of character for the rest of the set, so the slower stepping rhythms from the other tracks are emphasized. Sonically, “Early Morning Rain” may be the track that attempts to add the freshest coat of paint to the Lightfoot originals, as atmospheric guitar texture plays alongside a wind-swirled vocal and little drum flourishes. But is one of the weaker tracks.
Many of the releases in the Latitudes series give each artist free reign to try new things, to stretch out, or channel things into a singular focus. A Gourd of Gold is a prime example of this freedom afforded, and though it is not mind-blowing as a recorded document, it was clearly never meant to be. It’s just a solid run of good material by a group of talented musicians, and at the end of the day, there’s absolutely no harm in that.