Released: February 1974
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 42
Certified Platinum: 10/13/78
Sundown is a fine album which weaves conventional folk and pop strands into a whole that is greater than its parts. The polish of Lightfoot's singing has tended in the past to undermine the seriousness of his songs, inviting the listener to appreciate his records mainly as aural artifacts rather than explore its contents. But most of Sundown's 12 songs are so evocative that they prohibit such easy perusal.
Lightfoot's singing is almost crooning -- a style which understates and redeems the rhetorical and sentimental conventions intrinsic to all formal songwriting. Producer Lenny Waronker has outdone himself helping Lightfoot achieve a balance between surface and substance, by providing a varied instrumental palette, richly acoustic and adorned by some excellent string charts from Nick DeCaro.
Lightfoot's reflections are those of a mature man, capable of strong romantic and political emotions, tempered by a suave sexuality and an elegiac mysticism. "Somewhere U.S.A."is a lovely evocation of romantic complications experienced during the daze of travel. "High and Dry" also celebrates travel and uses the image of a ship and its different skippers to affirm continuities. The six-minute "Seven Island Suite" is the album's most ambitious cut, and presents an elusive apocalyptic vision. More incisive are "Sundown," an ominous assertion of sexual jealously, and "Circle of Steel," a protest song about the antagonisms of welfare and poverty.
The album's last and most powerful cut, "Too Late for Prayin'" is perhaps Lighfoot's finest creation. A modified hymn, somewhat reminiscent of Paul Simon's "American Tune," "Too Late" is both a prayer for our spiritual restoration and a lament for its absence. It is the work of a master craftsman whose endurance and prolificacy have yet to receive just recognition in the United States.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 3/14/74.
Sundown finds Lightfoot reunited with bass player John Stockfish, a regular with the troupe in the early days, but latter-day regular Rick Haynes is still around too, and both are great. Lightfoot's songs are often keyed to the bass, and Lightfoot takes a direct no-nonsense approach to instrumentation. His songs don't need anything getting in their way, anyhow, and these particular ones have quite a way about them; one after another, they are remarkable.
"Too Late For Prayin'," an embarrassment of riches in itself, demonstrates how quietly remarkable they can be, but give yourself time and it will also demonstrate Lightfoot's uncanny ability to invent beautiful melodies and keep them simple, to say his piece in verses so graceful and economical that you can enjoy the flow of the syllables as many times as you like before settling down to what the words mean. "Circle Of Steel" is another such demonstration, and my other special favorite is "Somewhere USA," which has that long-legged pace that Lightfoot practically owns. The title song is perhaps too simple, but its refrain -- which will stay in your head for a month, and you have no choice in the matter -- has three different wordings, including, "Sometimes I think it's a sin / When I feel like I'm winning when I'm losing again."
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 1974.
If Gordon had dyed his hair and taken a short course at the local car wash -- you think he would have lasted a week? -- he might have found a new career as Jim Croce II. Instead, he scored one of his periodic hit singles, thus securing his status as a weird new kind of purist: uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music. Two songs about the lure of the sea and one about urban despair go down as easy as the usual plaints about female perdify. Chad lives? B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Lightfoot's commercial peak came with this album, which topped the US charts, containing both the #1 title song and the Top 10 hit "Carefree Highway." But songs like "Somewhere U.S.A." and "High and Dry" are textured, catchy folk/rock on a par with the better known tunes. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The triple-threat Canadian troubadour with a one-of-a-kind sound was at the peak of his abilities on this lyrically amazing, commercial success. Offering songs like "Sundown," a classic, and "Carefree Highway," it's perfect listening for laid-back evenings. Still, a few think it's a shame that some of the tunes are a bit dull, suggesting a look into Gord's Gold for a cache of pure hits. * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
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