If You Could Read My Mind
Released: April 1970
Chart Peak: #12
Weeks Charted: 37
Certified Gold: 6/14/71
Unlike many of the folk artists of the past decade, Gordon Lightfoot has never drifted into electric rock. Perhaps this is because his music is closely related to the country-western spirit, and he feels akin to the land. When Lightfoot sings about traveling or love, he is not really describing the plastic world of today's young people, but a nostalgic one of candy apples, diesel trucks, and trains. But that's all right, it's genuine, and I like it.
Gordon Lightfoot conveys a certain easygoing, relaxed pace that doesn't demand a pushy arrangement. The strings that have been added to about half the songs of If You Could Read My Mind are nice, but they aren't necessary. Lightfoot's strength lies in his ability as a songwriter and folk singer. His accompaniment lies in the skills of the familiar Red Shea and Rick Haynes, with Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, and John Sebastian joining in on a few of the songs.
"Me and Bobby McGee" is the only song of the eleven on the album that Lightfoot did not write. It is a powerful, emotional song of wide spaces and close people. A windshield wiper rhythm slaps the song along, as Ry Cooder joins the Lightfoot trio in a beautiful accompaniment. Lightfoot's multi-track harmony toward the end has got to be some of the nicest he's ever recorded. You can't help but get caught up in this song -- the words, melody, singing, and instrumental jell perfectly.
"Sit Down Young Stranger" is a graceful, introspective ballad. The solid melody, the calm trio, and Lightfoot's vocal all contribute to mold an involving song. "Pony Man" drifts in a dream world; its melody is one of the best on the album. It's just too bad the producers decided to cover up Lightfoot's whistling on a pair of bridges with John Sebastian's harmonica, which doesn't quite fit.
"Minstrel of the Dawn" is another peaceful ballad with floating Lightfoot images. Randy Newman arranged the strings here, as well as on "Approaching Lavender." "Baby, It's Alright," with John Sebastian playing electric guitar, is the closest Lightfoot gets to rock.
Probably some of these songs are not going to be remembered as great songs. But there is a lot of Gordon Lightfoot in this album, as well as some of the best material Lightfoot has ever done, and, with songs like "Cobwebs and Dust" and "Me and Bobby McGee," some of the nicest folk music on record anywhere.
- Jud Rosebush, Rolling Stone, 7/23/70.
Gordon Lightfoot's latest album is as easy going as a vagabond asking for no more than a match to light his hand-rolled cigarette. Gordon smiles his thanks with his every phrase and, in the end, it is I who am grateful for the privlege of listening. "Freedom" he sings, is "just another word for nothing left to lose." What profundity is hidden in that phrase. How it sums up youth's drop-out attitude. But Lightfoot always offers hope and poetry. And when a man spills poetry from his soul, how can you deny his worth?
Poetry reigns supreme in another of his songs, "Approaching Lavender": "If you'd like to try your hand at understanding Lavender, then you must be very sure that life is not a game," he sings, while Randy Newman's strings spin off into a world of Randy's own making, a world intricate in its melodies and harmonies. Newman is not the only guest artist on this album. On "Saturday Clothes," who else but John Sebastian is playing the auto-harp, and on "Cobwebs And Dust," we find Van Dyke Parks on harmonium and Ry Cooder on the mandolin. So, with a little help from his formidable friends, Gordon lightfoot has once more made a gem of an album. It is a thing of beauty to play and replay until you know it by heart.
- Rex Reed, Stereo Review, 1970.
Lightfoot's Reprise albums are always tastefully constructed, with their careful finger-picking, restrained rhythm sections, and subtle string arrangements serving as a bed for the singer's sturdy baritone. What distinguishes the albums is the quality of Lightfoot's songwriting, and this one, featuring the title track as well as "Approaching Lavender" and "If You Could Read My Mind" has the best overall selection. * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
If You Could Read My Mind is Gordon Lightfoot's breakthrough album, marked mostly by its gentle, celestial melodies. * * * 1/2
- James Person, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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