The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson

The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson

(Stony Plain)

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2007, Volume 14, #10

Written by John Metzger

Mon October 8, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT


Ian Tysonís career as a songwriter began as a fluke; he learned to play guitar after being injured in a rodeo accident. He soon moved to Toronto, and after meeting his future wife Sylvia Fricker, the couple went to New York, where they were signed by Bob Dylanís manager Albert Grossman. Recording under the moniker of Ian & Sylvia, the duo scored a major folk hit with Four Strong Winds, the first original song that they committed to vinyl. In the mid-í70s, they divorced, and Tyson embarked upon an on-again, off-again solo career that was interspersed with bouts of retirement, which he spent working on his ranch in Alberta, Canada.

Four Strong Winds, of course, became standard fare for an array of folk and pop acts in the 1960s. Everyone from Bobby Bare to The Searchers to The Kingston Trio covered the tune, though Neil Youngís rendition, which appeared on his 1978 outing Comes a Time, is the one that most often is cited, at least in the States. In his homeland of Canada, Tyson is revered perhaps even more than Young is, and from the material contained on The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson, itís easy to see why. Its 15 tracks were pieced together by a slew of colleagues, contemporaries, fans, and friends, all of whom clearly are huge admirers of his talents. Spanning five decades, the songs that were chosen for the set provide a sterling introduction to his canon.

The liberties that the various artists featured on The Gift took to interpreting Tysonís songs neither embellish nor diminish his body of work. Instead, they merely re-frame his romanticized view of life, love, and most important, the cowboy way. On one of the setís more accessible moments, Blue Rodeo graces Four Strong Winds with a shimmering psych-pop arrangement that straddles the line between a pair of classics by The Byrds: Younger than Yesterday and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. In addition, Jennifer Warnes lends a female perspective to Blue Mountains of Mexico, a tale of fleeting love, while Cindy Church turns Range Delivery ó a cut from Tysonís most recent studio outing Songs from the Gravel Road ó into a soul-pop gem by reveling in its lilting reggae cadence.

For the most part, however, the performers who contributed to The Gift seem content with embracing the simplicity of Tysonís Western tales, thereby allowing his lyrics to carry the load as they paint portraits of the dusty trails that wind their way through Alberta, Montana, and Mexico. Corb Lund gallops through the open expanses of MC Horses; Chris Hillman comes to comprehend the allure of a cowboyís lifestyle on What Does She See; Rambliní Jack Elliott uses his rugged, leathery voice to tremendous effect on Will James; and with their acoustic guitars, Tom Russell and Andrew Hardin paint the nighttime sky with twinkling stars during a stunningly haunting interpretation of the epic Old Cheyenne. Faithful Canadians have long known of Tysonís talent as a songwriter. With any luck, The Gift will reintroduce his work to those living on this side of the border. starstarstar Ĺ

The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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