At 81 years-old and 20-plus studio albums into his career, Gordon Lightfoot is still releasing music. While his latest release, Solo, is a warm and charming entry, it doesn’t do too much more to distinguish itself from the novelty of being a new album from a long-running act.
To its benefit, Solo gives itself some more individuality by consisting of songs that are truly “solo,” with just Lightfoot and his guitar. This is not only an appealing gimmick, for lack of a better word, but also an approach that plays to the strengths of Lightfoot’s necessarily weakened voice. His vocals are much better than any other 81-year-old’s might be, but they can’t quite resonate the way they would have decades ago.
All that said, this relatively slim 33-minute album features a nest of songs that are sung from the perspective of someone with a lot of life behind them. “Oh So Sweet” opens the album as a kind of folk version of “My Way,” with Lightfoot pondering some regrets and some disappointments amid some undeniably joyful moments. With lines like “back when life was still only a mystery,” Lightfoot deftly shows off his ability to communicate a complex thought with uncomplicated delivery.
Other songs throughout the album consider choices made, and a life lived, such as in “E-Motion” when Lightfoot sings that he “has said everything I ever wanted to say,” which is surely a thought only held by an octogenarian. In “Better Off,” Lightfoot asks if you “are really better off than before?” and “Just a Little Bit” expresses the weariness that can come with living so many years of life. “Just a Little Bit” shows off Lightfoot’s subtle sense of humor, as it lists a variety of random things which someone might be “tired of,” including the phone bill, the Olympics, and a cheap thrill.
Despite the short length of the album, several songs tend to drift on for longer than they perhaps should. This loose quality can be appealing if you hook into the song and enjoy the melodic repetitions, but after a few songs that meander, the second half of the album starts to sag just a bit. Lightfoot picks up the mood some with “The Laughter We Seek” and “Why Not Give It a Try,” which add a bit of playfulness to the end of the album. “Why Not Give It a Try” even includes some relatively breath-ey whistles that feel whimsical yet vulnerable from this experienced musician and storyteller.
Although Solo, unfortunately, does not offer many stand-out moments, it is nevertheless a charming and relaxed folk album from an artist who has been doing what he does for so long that he doesn’t need to break a sweat to write a decent song. Lightfoot is still going strong, and Solo will give his fans a pleasant and humble treat from the beloved, long-lived folk presence.