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Review: Jack Semple pays his respects to Gordon Lightfoot with a stunning show in Prince Albert (March 1st, 2024)

words and pictures by Scott Roos

This past Friday, March 1st at Prince Albert’s EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts, renowned Saskatchewan based blues guitarist Jack Semple took a predominantly acoustic, understated approach as he presented his “Jack Semple Plays Gordon Lightfoot” concert program. With a pair of sets chock full of Lightfoot’s most recognizable songs on top of a tasty morsal of deep cuts, Semple, for the most part, alongside pedal steel player Ian Cameron, bassist Danny Jones and drummer Brent Jefferson, delighted his audience with a even handed take on the Canadian legend’s music letting the songs speak for themselves. Critically acclaimed and much beloved singer Heidi Munro, who has a long history of singing with Semple, made a guest appearance on some songs as well.

Opening up the evening in a trio setting, Semple, alongside Jones and Cameron, began the first set with a handful of more folksy numbers from the Lightfoot songbook that included “Early Morning Rain”, “Ribbon of Darkness” and “Steel Rail Blues”. Semple’s vocals, residing more in the tenor range compared to the familiar Lightfoot baritone, did take some getting used to (Editor's note: let’s face it, Lightfoot’s songs are so ingrained in the Canadian lexicon that when one of his songs fires up don’t we all just hear his familiar vocal tone and inflections in our minds when one of his songs is being sung by someone else?), but the superior musicianship of the crew, especially once joined by Jefferson on drums, was undeniable. Semple even took a few bluesy solo breaks on his twelve string, which garnered huge cheers each time. This initial set ended with a singalong rendition of "Sundown".

In total, Munro sang on four songs; two in each set. She would come out in the first set to provide harmony vocals with Semple on a rousing rendition of “Alberta Bound”, and sing lead on “Carefree Highway”. In the second set she would sing harmony and trade verses on “Summer Side of Life” and provide a sultry, jazz inflected take on “Song For a Winter’s Night”. Munro was, in general, a nice change of pace to the proceedings. She has a magnetic stage presence that is all her own, and her voice was definitely in fine form.

Compared to a more “chill” first set, the band returned for the second set a lot more energized, most likely from the song selection as well as Semple’s craftsmanship in the arrangements.  Highlights of the second set included a stunning electric blues rendition of “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, an exceptionally reverent “If You Could Read My Mind”, the funky “Oh, Linda” that showed off the incredible chops of bassist Danny Jones, and the patriotic “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”. After an enthusiastic standing ovation, the group came back out for an intense “Black Day In July” that wowed the audience and proved to be the perfect ending to the night despite the fact that this particular tune many would consider a “deep cut”. 

Semple provided a solid night of entertainment at the Rawlinson to be sure. With Lightfoot’s passing last May, his songs and his legacy to the Canadian public specifically, are more important than ever. Semple, with his “Jack Semple Plays Gordon Lightfoot” show, has taken many of his favourite songs by his boyhood hero and, to a degree, made them his own whilst, at the same time, not rejigging them so much that they sound unrecognizable. He doesn’t tarnish the legacy of Lightfoot but more or less pays his respects to it. That is something, with an artist like Lightfoot, that is likely extremely difficult to achieve. Kudos to Semple for pulling it off. This show is a can’t miss and anyone who is a fan of Semple’s or Lightfoot’s or both should see it. It’s well worth it.

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