Some will remember Ian & Sylvia, a pretty well-known folk-country duo who had several hits and proved influential to a number of rock musicians. The duo became part of the cult-legendary band Great Speckled Bird, an ensemble fated to come and go quickly due to the usual record company shenanigans, after which the duet re-emerged, then quitting performing in 1974, soonafter divorcing.
It was while Tyson and wife were establishing themselves early on that he wrote the song, Four Strong Winds, that CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company) Radio One listeners chose as the greatest Canadian song of all time. Thereafter, he was nominated as the Greatest Canadian but didn't quite make it. Still…quite an honor twice over.
Mention Gordon Lightfoot on *any* CD and I'm all over it. This one has not only him but Jennifer Warnes, Tom Russell, Chris Hillman, a number of well-known performers and one or two very surprising to hear again. David Rea, for instance, was a buddy of Leslie West & Felix Pappalardi, co-writing a Mountain song or two, thereafter neglected for his solo LPs. He returns to cover the title song here in moody reminiscence. Blue Rodeo turns in a killer version of the aforementioned Four Strong Winds, leading off the 15 cuts, and Lightfoot trots out Red Velvet in his inimitable style, making the tune absolutely his. Cindy Church's Range Delivery is a bouncy cover with a little surprise: Tyson joins the backing vocals, the only appearance he makes in the tribute. His Speckled Bird compeers Amos Garrett and Buddy Cage put in their two cents worth, one cut each, Cage sitting in with Circus in Flames on the classic Someday Soon in a much hoarser coarser version than you're used to hearing, dry and dusty as pueblo noon. It's a scintillatingly morose take, much sadder than the original, Doug Andrew delivering rural tones and wistful knowingness in a been-there-done-that-dammit voice. Cage's steel guitar is understated, becoming the perfect complement. In a welter of excellent renditions, this is the stand-out, not for its excellent composition but rather the moving interpretation. Then catch the gorgeous closing instrumental Moondancer, kinda like a mid-western Albatross (Fleetwood Mac), and float away.
One of the better moves I made in the last year or so was to begin reviewing for FAME, as it's proven to be an excellent locale for delving into the best of what's available in the slowly refining and modernizing country-folk-bluegrass scene, a style that is somehow managing to maintain its roots better than most any other available. This CD's only one of many superb discs I've been able to absorb, re-informing an affinity that had been too long slumbering. About the only criticism I have for The Gift is that I would've really loved to have heard a cut covered by the leader of a nearly forgotten group contemporary to Ian & Sylvia and Great Speckled Bird: Iain Matthews of Matthews Southern Comfort. Few have ever been able to get that maximum mellow country-folk vibe or more beautiful group vocals than him. Such an appearance would have bookended Blue Rodeo masterfully.
Ah well, maybe next time, because we certainly could easily do with a The Gift, Vol. 2.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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