on June 3, 2002
These two albums, packaged together on one CD, offer an almost startling contrast in styles, particularly when you take into account they were both released in the same year, 1968.
The first, Did She Mention My Name, contains a number of timeless Lightfoot songs, such as "Last Time I Saw Her," "Pussywillows, Cattails," and the title track. In addition, it contains what is probably Lightfoot's most unabashedly political song, "Black Day in July," dealing with the terrible race riots in Detroit in the late 60s.
Musically, Red Shea on lead guitar, and John Stockfish on bass make their usual sterling contributions. However, of the early albums, this is the one that sounds the most dated to my ears. There is an abundance of strings and brass on the album, arranged in a much more "upfront" style than Lightfoot would employ on his later recordings. Many times, these arrangements tend to overwhelm the songs--the album seems to be trying a little too hard to achieve a contemporary (for that period) sound. Additionally, there are a few songs ("I Want to Hear it From You," "May I")that just don't quite measure up to the others on the album: admittedly, much of this is probably due to the impossibly high standards Lightfoot set for himself over the course of his first two UA albums.
The second album included on this CD is Back Here on Earth, which offers a decidedly different approach. Here the arrangements are stripped down to vocal, rhythm and lead acoustic guitar, and bass, with very, very minimal overdubbing--mainly just the occasional background vocal. Lightfoot, Shea and Stockfish play very cohesively, with Stockfish supplying his very solid, unusually rhythmic bass style (Lightfoot did not use a drummer as part of the touring band until 1976; thus, for his live sound, the bassist needed to supply a lot of the rhythmic foundation a drummer would otherwise provide). Red Shea remains one of most innovative acoustic players I've ever heard--with the stripped-down nature of this album, it's up to him to provide a lot of musical coloring, and this he does beautifully.
At first glance, Back Here on Earth seems to contain less of the "Lighfoot classics" that the previous albums contain. To the casual fan, the only songs that one might know would probably be "Bitter Green," and "The Circle is Small" (re-made 10 years later on the album Endless Wire--it is this re-made version which appears on the very recently released Complete Greatest Hits CD). However, don't be deceived: this is an extremely strong collection; one in which the total exceeds the sum of the parts. I'm not sure why this album tends to get overlooked--it may be because the folk element in his music is the strongest it had been since his debut UA album Lightfoot!, and by this time perhaps people were used to a more country/pop/folk-oriented approach. In any event, songs such as "Unsettled Ways," "Marie Christine," "Bitter Green," "Cold Hands From New York," and "Don't Beat Me Down," are pure Lightfoot at the height of his powers. Other highlights include the ethereally haunting "Affair on Eighth Avenue," and the delightfully whimsical "The Gypsy."
This CD also includes a bonus track, a version of the previously unreleased song "Spin, Spin." This version, recorded in New York, includes drums and is very uptempo. It sounds like it would fit right in on either Did She Mention My Name or Back Here on Earth (after you take away the drums!).
While not as extensive as the essay included with Bear Family's release of Lightfoot!/The Way I Feel, the booklet for Did She Mention My Name/Back Here on Earth contains an informative essay, photos and lyrics.