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Ian Tyson

Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Stories

(StonyPlain; US: 24 Mar 2009; UK: 20 Apr 2009)

It’s been an awfully long time since Ian Tyson, as one half of Ian and Sylvia, had a huge hit with the folk-rock ballad “Four Strong Winds”. Soon Sylvia left, the record sales dropped, he bought a ranch in Alberta and soldiered on. Thirty-five years and over a dozen albums in to his solo career, he releases his new Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Storiesto little fanfare. His voice is muzzled, perpetually tormented by a catch hanging in the back of his throat. He sounds gravelly and raw to the point where you begin to worry about his health. Though there’s no indication that Tyson is ill in any way, he sounds like Townes Van Zandt on Sanitarium Blues—an unassuming country singer in his final days. There’s nothing particularly impressive about the album, no pyrotechnics on display. The production is basic and workmanlike and sometimes overly slick. The lyrics aren’t full of wordplay or beautiful imagery. (Some of the lines, in fact, land with a clunk.) And yet somehow Tyson’s harrowing, weathered voice and simple, sturdy sensibilities tie the whole thing together into much more than the sum of its parts. The songs are sentimental, but his voice is flinty and unflinching, haunted by ghosts and yet undistracted from the task at hand. It’s an unassuming album in praise of unassuming virtues: devotion, resiliency, commitment, care. It’s honest and defiant and lovely; it deserves more attention than it will receive.

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