Ian Tyson, the iconic Canadian songwriter and singer who lives on a ranch in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, has had a tough two years since his last album, 2005’s Songs from the Gravel Road.
Ian Tyson is perhaps best-known to mainstream audiences for his success with the folk duo Ian and Sylvia in the 1960s and as a songwriter, with tunes such as "Someday Soon," "Navajo Rug," and especially "Four Strong Winds," which has been covered more than 100 times by artists ranging from Neil Young, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan to Judy Collins, Marianne Faithfull and Waylon Jennings.
A regular performer at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering held in Elko, Nevada, Ian Tyson was honored at the 25th annual event in late January, 2009, with the presentation from his fans of a Lifetime Achievement Award: a custom-made, silver-mounted saddle created by the world-famous Hamley & Company of Pendleton, Oregon.
"Dramatic change" hardly comes close to describing a difficult divorce, another broken love affair, and his recent 75th birthday, which he faced with a mixture of satisfaction and regret.
Now, with the release of Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories on Stony Plain Records, his long-time fans will discover something else: Ian Tyson has a new voice. It’s his 14th album for the Edmonton-based roots music label Stony Plain, and was produced by Nashville’s Harry Stinson, who’s worked with a who’s-who in Music City, from George Jones and Marty Stuart to Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle.
Ian Tyson’s "new voice"
Grainy, gravelly, and deeply emotional, one of the smoothest voices in Canadian music is now dramatically different. What happened?
"Well, a couple of years ago," says Tyson in a matter-of-fact tone, "I played a big outdoor show in Ontario. I fought the sound system — and I lost.
"I knew I’d hurt my voice, and it was recovering slowly when I was hit with a bad virus, which seemed to last forever. My old voice isn’t coming back, the doctors told me, so I’ve had to get used to this new one."
That has been a challenge, Tyson says, but he says audiences have warmed to it.
"They seem to pay more attention, now, to the lyrics and the stories in the songs. And while I’ve lost some of the bottom end of my voice, the top range, oddly enough, is still there."
The title song of the CD was co-written by Tyson with Stewart MacDougall, and tells the story of a pack of wolves transported from Canada’s Yellowhead Pass to America’s Yellowstone National Park, where the species had become extinct — told in the voice of one of the wolves who made the journey. Another remarkable song, contributed by Toronto songwriter Jay Aymar, is about hockey commentator Don Cherry and the death of his beloved wife, Rose.
The eight new songs by Tyson (of the album’s 10 total) cover a range of emotions and stories relating to Alberta’s cultural landscape and the disappearing cowboy, as well as his personal life. The writer rarely tells exactly what they’re about, but expects his listeners to understand where the songs are coming from.
Ian Tyson - Yellowhead to Yellowstone and other Love Stories
U.S. Release Date: March 24, 2009
Stony Plain Records is distributed in the U.S. by Ryko Distribution
Ian Tyson on tour:
5/22 at Acoustic Music San Diego
5/23 at McCabe’s in Santa Monica
5/25 at Main Street Theater in Visalia
5/26 at Palms Playhouse in Winters
www.iantyson.com and www.stonyplainrecords.com