The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson
Ian Tyson's musical career began in the early days of the folk boom. He and his wife Sylvia were the first Canadian folk act to stride across the border and capture the American pop music scene. Tyson's original compositions also gained favor with other performers including Eric Anderson, Gordon Lightfoot, and Judy Collins. Ian and Sylvia's music wasn't as prettified and plain vanilla as most of the other early folk duos, and Tyson's pioneering spirit quickly led them away from traditional folk into folk-rock. Their band, Great Speckled Bird, who predated the Flying Burrito Brothers and other west-coast American country rock bands, was influential in the early country rock movement. In 1970, tiring of the road, Ian and Sylvia began hosting a national Canadian TV show. That lasted for five years. Then Ian and Sylvia's marriage ended and Tyson decided to return to his first love, training horses. He bought a spread in Pincher Creek, Alberta, and retired from the music business. But he continued writing songs and in 1983 re-surfaced with his own unique brand of modern western cowboy music. Since then he has released nine critically acclaimed albums.
The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson combines Tyson's songs with a diverse set of performers. The roster includes Jennifer Warnes, Chris Hillman, Blue Rode, Corb Lund, David Rea, Amos Garrett, Tom Russell, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Stewart MacDougall, the Good Brothers, The McDades, the Circus in Flames, and Jeff Bradshaw. The material spans Tyson's entire career. Early songs include "Summer Wages," "Four Strong Winds," and "Someday Soon." The Circus Flames' version of "Someday Soon" is the most surprising reading of a Tyson song. Doug Andrew's simple vocals backed by Buddy Cage's plaintive steel guitar obbligato strips the song down to its essential frame.
The bulk of the material on The Giftcomes from Tyson's more recent cowboy song catalog. Jennifer Warnes' voice soars on the plaintive "Blue Mountains of Mexico," while Gordon Lightfoot delivers a restrained reading on "Red Velvet." My favorite among the newer material is Jeff Bradshaw's instrumental rendition of "Moondancer." Assisted by Amos Garrett on electric guitar and David Wilkie on mandolin, Bradshaw's pedal steel and baritone guitars create a lonesome panorama of the Canadian west.
Co-produced and mastered by Peter North, The Gift employed ten different studios. As you might expect, the sonic character of the music changes drastically from song to song. Some cuts, like the Jennifer Warnes' contribution, "Blue Mountains of Mexico," are a trifle reverb-heavy, while others, such as David Rea's "The Gift," are on the dry matter-of-fact side. Although it never sounds bad, The Gift is not as sonically consistent as many anthology releases.
The packaging itself is intriguing. Instead of glossy photographs or brightly colored graphics, the folding CD design features sketches made by the late 19th century artist C.M. Russell. The mood of the sketches matches the rustic quality of Tyson's music.
Unlike some anthologies, which feature overblown performances by "big names" that have little, if any affinity for the music they're covering, The Gift delivers unfailingly genuine and heartfelt renditions of some of Ian Tyson's best work.