Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ian Tyson – All the Good’ Uns Vol. 2

All the Good’ Uns Vol. 2
Stony Plain Records

The early Ian & Sylvia albums had a lot to do with getting me into folk music when I first started buying records as a kid in the 1960s. Together with Ian Tyson’s solo work from the 1970s to now, he is responsible for one of the most significant bodies of work bridging folk, country, and western music.

In 1996, Ian put together All the Good’ Uns, a best-of collection of songs drawn from the six albums he’d released since 1983 – albums that revitalized his career and essentially kick-started the revival of cowboy culture in the contemporary world. In my Montreal Gazette review, I gently took Ian to task for the album title. It would pretty much take a boxed set of all the earlier albums to get ALL the good uns,” I argued.

And that is pretty much the case with All the Good ‘Uns Vol. 2, a collection of 19 great songs drawn from five albums released between 1999 and 2012. But, I guess, choices have to be made in assembling such collections and it’s hard to argue with any of the choices: they are all good ‘uns.

Among the songs included from 1999’s Lost Herd is “La Primera, a ballad about the
history of horses in the Americas that Ian anthropomorphically tells from the point of
view of one of the first 16 horses brought to the New World in 1493. It’s an ambitious and potentially pretentious concept for a five minute song, but with it Ian proves he is a master of timeless and classic songwriting. A couple of other Lost Herd songs, including the title track and “Brahmas and Mustangs” lament the loss of the old west to modernity.

A three-song segment of then-new material from Live at Longview, a concert recording from 2002, is highlighted by “Bob Fudge,” the story of a disastrous 1882 cattle drive that Ian sings from the perspective of a cowboy who survived it.

Among the four songs included from 2005’s Songs from the Gravel Road are “Land of Shining Mountain,” the lead-off song on the CD, in which he describes the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where he lives and, in the third person, mentions that the only girl he wanted has left and is not coming back, and “This is My Sky,” in which he cynically wonders if anyone mates for life before speculating that perhaps it’s only the Canada goose that does.

Four songs are included from 2008’s Yellowhead to Yellowstone and Other Love Songs and two from 2012’s Raven Singer, the albums he recorded after vocal cord scarring and a virus combined to give Ian what he called his “new voice.” Although his singing was hoarser, grittier and even whispery at times, Ian remained a master at song communication. In the vivid “Yellowhead to Yellowstone,” Ian is again singing anthropomorphically, this time from a wolf'’s perspective, as he describes the territories he travels and in “Charles Goodnight’s Grave,” he sings about the legendary cattle rancher who forged the Goodnight-Loving cattle drive trail.

Ian ends All the Good ‘Uns Vol. 2 with his the only song on the CD he didn't write or co-write, a poignant version of Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen’s classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Lost Herd that he completely makes his own.

Ian is reporting that recent surgery and therapy have pretty much restored his voice to what it was and he’ll be back on the road this year including a concert with Corb Lund, November 30, at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa that I’m highly anticipating.

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--Mike Regenstreif


  1. Ian is already back on the road and sounding great! I missed him here in CO early this year, and then saw a concert in Taos, NM and figured, "why not take a little trip". We did, and it was great (the trip and Ian). His voice is restored (he describes it as "a miracle", and indeed it is). I had never seen him perform before (I discovered him because of Lightfoot, during my "buy every Lightfoot cover" stage), and didn't want to miss my opportunity. As it turns out he will be back in CO in October, and I will be there.

    He is 79 and amazing!

  2. My own review of the new Tyson retrospective (which discusses, among other things, his ties to the ballad tradition, including the parody of "Lord Lovel") will appear at the roots-music site Rambles.Net. Tyson's is an extraordinary career, not like anybody else's. It starts and ends in a folk scene, though the definition of "folk" has shifted, and in the direction of authenticity.

    A correction: "Yellowhead to Yellowstone" is about wolves, not horses.

  3. Thanks to Jerome Clark for noticing the error in the original text. I've corrected the text to reflect his correction.