Gordon Lightfoot is an elder statesman of the North American singer/songwriter community, an artist who first emerged during the era that birthed Bob Dylan and is still active at a time when folk has come to mean practically anyone with an acoustic guitar. Given the long shadow cast by his career (especially in his native Canada), Lightfoot doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do (at least from a creative standpoint), and the man was 80 years old when he stepped into the studio to record 2020's Solo, his first studio album in 14 years. The creation of Solo was fairly spontaneous. While cleaning his office, Lightfoot ran across demos of a batch of tunes he wrote in 2001 and 2002, and after giving them a listen, he decided to go into his favorite studio in Hamilton, Ontario and give them a proper recording, with just him and his acoustic guitar. With its spare, intimate sound, Solo bears a certain resemblance to Lightfoot's early albums of the '60s for United Artists, focused squarely on the man and his songs. If Solo feels like it takes Lightfoot full-circle from his 1966 debut album Lightfoot!, it also leaves no doubt that more than a half-century separates the two recordings. The lyrical and melodic structures are remarkably similar, but the voice that was once booming and confident is whispery and lacks the same articulation, and hearing him try to whistle on "Dreamdrift" is a humbling experience. At the same time, his decision to cut these song in the simplest manner is one that works; he may sound weaker than he used to, but he's also not fighting a band for attention, and the sly rounder that populated many of his early tunes is still faintly audible on Solo, perhaps not as spry but clearly remembering adventures of the past and even imaging some new ones. (On the closer, "Why Not Give It a Try," Lightfoot is clearly pursuing a new romance even as he admits he'd just as soon stay home.) And he may sound a bit cranky on "Just a Little Bit" and "Dreamdrift," but he does so with a faint good humor and the wisdom to know that life will always have rough patches no matter how good things may be. Given his age and his productivity in the 21st century, it's not hard to imagine that Solo will be Gordon Lightfoot's final album, and if it is, it's a simple but satisfying summation of his life in music, his gifts stripped to their essentials and still proving to be effective despite the march of time.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming