Home Feature James Gordon releases new single: ‘Lonesome as Hank Williams Tonight’

James Gordon releases new single: ‘Lonesome as Hank Williams Tonight’

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“I’m not prone to loneliness,” Canadian folk singer James Gordon said of his new single, “Lonesome as Hank Williams Tonight.”

But that’s hard to believe given the convincing wistfulness of the song, and that of some of the other tracks on his new, live album, Wrinkles and Scars.

On the other hand, James has kept himself so extraordinarily busy working on so many wide-ranging endeavors for so many years, it’s possible that he simply hasn’t had the time to feel lonely.

But he got the opportunity one night in 2022, when he attended his last meeting of Guelph City Council, of which he’d been a member for eight years. He was happy to have gotten one of his initiatives passed — a satisfying coda for his political career — and was ready to celebrate. The problem was that he was alone in a shabby motel room on Vancouver Island (he was on tour; the meeting was conducted over Zoom), and there was no one there to help him mark the occasion. He looked out the window at the wildfire haze then pervading the island, and thought of his favorite “lonely” song, Hank Williams’ all-time classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

One of two songs from the album directly inspired by that year’s wildfires — the other being “Wild Wind Blows” — “Lonesome As Hank Williams Tonight” quotes from the Hank song, but makes it clear that the two men are lonely in different ways. Where Williams’ loneliness was existential, for James — whose songs over the past four decades have tended to be upbeat — it’s more temporal. It will pass. That doesn’t make him feel any less lonesome in the moment, though.

The single is a follow-up to another namechecking song from the album, “Leonard’s Secret Chord,” a reference to a lyric from the great Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

As the title suggests, Wrinkles and Scars has James taking a look back to assess how his jam-packed life has shaped his years. As a founding member of folk trio Tamarack, with whom he performed from 1978 to 2000, and subsequently as a solo artist, he’s made dozens of albums. He’s composed for symphony orchestras, musical theatre and dance troupes; written film scores, and served as a songwriter-in-residence on CBC radio for over a decade. As a record producer, he’s credited on CDs by numerous Canadian folk artists, and his mentorship programs have spurred the careers of countless youth and adult songwriters alike. That’s not to mention his accomplishments as a published author, playwright, theatrical director, podcast host and his stint in politics. He’s earned every wrinkle and scar.

Recorded at Guelph’s River Run Centre in January 2024, the album finds James backed by his “Exceptional Ensemble” of Ian Bell, Randall Coryell, Anne Lindsay, Katherine Wheatley and David Woodhead. The 14 songs run the gamut from personal musings on aging and loneliness to some of the more politically charged material for which James is known—including musical protestations against climate change, religious fundamentalism, and the Rwandan genocide.

“I try to stay optimistic despite our current challenges,” he said. “As an activist, I want to hold onto hope, otherwise there’s no point investing energy into ‘the cause.’ That often feels pretty unrealistic in my moments of despair.”

 

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