Unbelievably, Ian Tyson, is running up fast on 80 years of age, but he sure as hell doesn't look it in the liner shot for Raven Singer, nor is the guy exactly slowing down. In the last dozen years, he issued four CDs, a 2-DVD concert, an autobiography, collaborated on a book about he and Sylvia, and made an award winning music documentary for Canada's Bravo! TV channel…and all that, of course, doesn't even begin to cover the toughest job and his first love: training horses in the southern Albertan ranch country. The second toughest gig, long-time fans well know, was recovering from severe throat damage after trying to make up for a failing sound system in 2006 (while he was in his 70s!!!), the incident which occasioned that now familiar gravelly hoarse sprechestimme style, which audiences have taken to with ardor.
This CD, then, follows expectedly in the new groove but shows that Tyson is as much an elder statesman of folk music north of the Montana line as Bob Dylan is south of it. In his homeland, Ian's considered an unshakeable icon, and, as he's become accustomed to this new mode of expression, the stories in his songs have become more poignant, crossing the border between Dylan and Cohen. The abundant imagery is always of open skies and lands tread by working class men and women, people of the earth who get far more out of life than those locked away in gated communities and penthouse suites. That special grace, however, does not exempt them from travail, and Tyson's not shy about his admonitions to watch one's step, not fall afoul of the many heartbreaks lying in wait for the heedless.
Ian Tyson is, if anything, travelling ever further back in time, digging deep to locate the taproots. More than once, I was reminded of the soul of the famed Bristol Sessions with The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the 1927 Tennessee recordings Johnny Cash named as "the most important event in the history of country music." There's that same salt of the earth quality in Raven, Tyson settling into an ambience too often lost as the modern strains of the new country mode compete with rock and roll. In a basic quartet ensemble, with four guests sitting in on various tracks, Sam Bush among 'em, he and the band manage to wring the most possible out of the form, avoiding excess and too-dialed-back a simplicity simultaneously, reflecting the point at which the still struggling genre was on a first name basis with folk music. Tyson may be going on his 80s, but he hasn't forgotten his 20s. Not at all.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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