Canadian Folk Artist James Gordon Releases “Lonesome As Hank Williams Tonight” From Wrinkles and Scars Album

“I’m not prone to loneliness,” Canadian folkie James Gordon says of his new single, “Lonesome As Hank Williams Tonight.” Given the deep, convincing wistfulness of the song, and that of some of the other tracks on his new, live album, Wrinkles and Scars, it’s almost hard to believe him. Check out the single on YouTube here:

On the other hand, Gordon 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 the 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 Gordon — 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. Tonight, he’s lonesome:

It’s knowing that you’re just not there

The ominous smoke that fills the air

The uncertainty that’s everywhere

Tonight it’s just too hard to bear

No midnight train to lowly whine

No robins weeping, no moon that’s cryin’

No endless night, and no leaves dyin’

But I’m as lonesome as Hank Williams tonight

As lonesome as Hank Williams tonight

I’m so lonesome I could cry

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 Gordon 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, the 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.

Listen on Spotify here:

Recorded at Guelph’s River Run Centre in January 2024, the album finds Gordon 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 Gordon is known—including musical protestations against climate change, religious fundamentalism, and the Rwandan genocide.

“I try to stay optimistic despite our current challenges,” he says. “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.”

Gordon’s moments of despair, though, amount to blessings for the rest of us.