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Review Gordon Lightfoot shows pillars of his art on ’Solo’

Gordon Lightfoot, “Solo” (Rhino)

Gordon Lightfoot’s first studio album since 2004 finds him displaying the pillars of his songwriting on “Solo,” a brave and unvarnished work teeming with maps of roads taken and avoided.

Most of the songs on the album were written and first recorded — but then totally forgotten — not long before he suffered a debilitating abdominal aortic aneurysm in 2002.

Rediscovering them recently on a pair of CDs, Lightfoot’s decision to reinterpret the 10 songs on his own with just his guitar results in one of his most direct and intimate albums.

Putting himself and the tunes under a microscope could have been a risky move, but it pays off. The 81-year-old Canadian’s voice is reedier — especially for someone who also had to recover from a 2006 stroke and already a decade ago was falsely reported as having passed away — but it still carries his characteristic emotional charge.

Opener and first single “Oh So Sweet” and “Return Into Dust” are among the tunes with a view of the past that swings between pride, remorse and acceptance and even among the regrets there are things to be grateful for.

“Better Off” is a tongue-in-cheek meditation from someone whose situation is not at all improved, while “Just a Little Bit” reflects the tediousness of everyday lives and chores. There is something in the mood and melody of “The Laughter We Seek” that’s very distantly reminiscent of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

Closer “Why Not Give It a Try” presents a variety of choices with the response to some being “I just want to stay home,” a wise pick in this pandemic era.

Lightfoot says he wanted fans to hear “what songs sound like when first written.” The stark approach could have turned out to be reckless. Instead, it’s at the heart of what makes “Solo” such an endearing set.

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