april 2009

The Resonance Deep Within

By Billy Altman

Ian Tyson: Deftly balancing observations of exterior and interior landscapes with a weathered and wise eye

Yellowhead To Yellowstone And Other Love Stories
Ian Tyson
Stony Plain

There's no question that it's something of a shock to begin listening to Ian Tyson's new CD and discover that the Canadian country-folk icon's signature baritone voice is gone, replaced by a rough-throated rasp more associated with talking songwriters like Rod McKuen. As the opening title track unfolds, though, you find yourself completely taken in by Tyson's thin, but, as it turns out, still capably note-hitting voice as he spins the tale of a wolf pack on the edge of extinction—from the point of view of the ageing pack leader.

The irony and the metaphor are equally striking, yet even if you didn't know that Ian Tyson is now 75, or that a crippling virus took away much of his old vocal muscle, my guess is this song would still get to you. That's because (a) it's a great song, and (b) Tyson has turned what might have been a white-flag type career tragedy into a newfound strength as a performer. There's a resonance coming from deep within him that is truly striking, and makes this latest collection one of Tyson's more memorable efforts in many years.

As has been the case ever since the early 1980s, when he returned to the music business after spending a number of years as a horse-training rancher in the Canadian Rockies, Tyson deftly balances observations of exterior and interior landscapes with a weathered and wise eye. There are recurrent themes of human loss and separation evident in such tunes as the post-breakup ballad "The Fiddler Must Be Paid," the aptly titled "Estrangement," and also of nature's ever-vanishing wildernesses ("Blaino's Song," "Bill Kane").

Especially effective are tracks like the evocative "Lioness," where the lines between the two blur ("In the night she comes to me/ She licks my wounds"), and the taut "Go This Far" ("We didn't know we'd go this far...like a runaway diesel on a lost highway"), whose jangly electric guitars bring back memories of Tyson's folk-rocking Ian and Sylvia days of the 1960s. As with everything else on Yellowhead To Yellowstone And Other Love Stories, it echoes with the sound of experience; like the autumnal Alberta weather of his evergreen "Four Strong Winds," the music's good in Ian Tyson's fall. 


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024