Though he rose from the ranks of journeyman '60s folksinger to become a potent and consistent '70s hit maker, Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot's stock in trade was as much hard-eyed, dispassionate observation as romance or poetic whimsy. Perhaps that's why his songs have been covered by everyone from Elvis (this set's "Early Morning Rain") to Dylan. If there's such a thing as an alpha-male folkie, Lightfoot certainly fits the bill. Spanning the tongue-in-cheek chauvinism of 1965's "For Lovin' Me" and the cheatin' ways of "Sundown" to more introspective fare like "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Beautiful," this 20-track collection presents a concise primer on Lightfoot's career and craft. After his career peaked with one of the most unlikely top five hits ever, the gloom-laden 1976 narrative "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," Lightfoot's production tailed off sharply, though this anthology's "Stay Loose" ('86) and "Restless" ('93) are testament to his enduring skills as a songwriter and performer. --Jerry McCulley
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