This review is written by Dai Woosnam,email@example.com, 6/02
Here in England where I live, Ian Tyson has never been “big”. Come to think of it, no Canadian solo artiste has made any real impact since the days of Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen.
But Ian Tyson has always been a respected name here. Some like me are old enough to remember his impact on the scene back in the Sixties with his partner Sylvia. However many of us Brits have a somewhat hazy idea as to what Tyson has been up to in the past decade or so.
And it seems like he has been thriving. He moved to a ranch near the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, lived the cowboy life, and still found time to produce several acclaimed albums.
It seems that this is an album that incorporates some of the most important songs from the past 20 years, and intersperses some new material. And it was recorded live over four consecutive nights at the Longview Community Hall. Now, does it “cut the mustard” for me?
Yes, I think it does. But that said, it is not what I expected it to be.
First of all, is it “Folk” or is it “Country”? (Yes, I know a futile distinction, for in the end, aren’t all labels only really for jam jars?) Yes, I guess so. But “label” things we in the end MUST, if only to communicate. However, that said, we must always be cognisant of the inherent flaws in the whole process of labelling.
The best definition of “Country” I ever heard was “music for Americans with dirt under their fingernails”. But that was YEARS ago. It does not apply any more. Now it is the BLAND leading the BLAND. The Garth Brooks of this world do not have dirt under their SHOES, let alone their fingernails!
But there is an authenticity to this album that makes me pine for the days before Tin Pan Alley took the soul of Nashville. There is dirt under Tyson’s fingernails alright. And at 68 years old there is no dimming of the big macho voice: indeed he seems in better voice than ever. He’s backed by a classy acoustic trio he’s been working with for several years, and is further joined by a couple of Tyson alumni on selected tracks.
The live recording is of studio quality: as clean as a whistle. The overall impression is one of a relaxed evening amongst friends. For Tyson fans, this album is a “must”.
For folks like me, I have to say that whilst enjoying the album hugely, I found the inclusion of one song slightly problematical. That song is “Someday Soon”, his most-covered song that proved very rewarding for Suzy Bogguss, Tanya Tucker, Judy Collins and others. It is one of the great songs of my lifetime.
“Great” song? So what’s the “problem”?
Well, its very GREATNESS invariably makes some of the other songs seem like “vin de table” to its own “Premier Cru”. And probably, even without its inclusion, some of Tyson’s songs here would not have made the listener really sit up and take notice.
But by gosh, his voice is true; the band is clearly on top form, and the album exudes bonhomie.
And most of all I am indebted to his cut “Jerry Ambler”, where he introduces me to the words of cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski. They include this gem of a line: “If tombstones were neon what word would they flash?”
I don’t think that driving past my local cemetery will ever be the same again.
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