Saturday, August 24, 2019

Ian & Sylvia – The Lost Tapes

The Lost Tapes
Stony Plain Records

As I wrote in 2017 when Tom Russell released Play One More: The Songs of Ian & Sylvia, “I got into record collecting as a kid in the 1960s and Ian & Sylvia’s LPs had a huge impact on me. They were a big part of my introduction to traditional folk music and to original, folk-based songwriting. By 1966, I owned all of their early LPs and kept on buying the new ones as they came out later in the ‘60s and early-‘70s. And I got to see them play live a couple of times. I still return to their music often – particularly the first five albums.

“As a music journalist, I’ve written about the CD reissues of the Ian & Sylvia LPs and about both Ian Tyson’s and Sylvia Tyson’s solo albums. I’ve seen both of them live on many occasions and, in the 1990s, I produced a couple of shows in Montreal with Sylvia (a stage setting of Timothy Findlay’s “The Pianoman’s Daughter” and a concert with Quartette, her group with three other great women singers). And I’ve done long (and separate) radio interviews with both Ian and Sylvia that have included extensive looks back at their Ian & Sylvia years.”

Ian had a weekly TV show on CTV in Canada from 1970 until 1975 – it was called “Nashville North” the first season before being renamed “The Ian Tyson Show” – that I always watched whenever I was home on the nights it aired (this was before the days of VCRs) and Sylvia was on the show often. Recently, Sylvia rediscovered a trove of live tapes from that era and worked with producer Danny Greenspoon (an old friend who started out on the Montreal folk scene around the same time as me) on assembling The Lost Tapes, a wonderful two-CD collection. Although there are no recording sources listed in the liner notes, I’m guessing most – if not all – of these tracks are from The Ian Tyson Show.

The first CD is labeled “Classics” and indeed all of these songs are both familiar – Ian & Sylvia recorded 10 of them on LPs back in the day – and fresh in these arrangements some of which have a fuller band sound than the original recordings.

Among my favorites on the first disc are versions of the traditional “When First Unto This Country” and “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies,” on which their harmonies and Sylvia’s autoharp playing shine; “Darcy Farrow,” written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell in the style of a traditional folksong; and Ian’s classics “Four Rode By,” “Four Strong Winds” and “Summer Wages.”

I also enjoyed their versions of “The French Song,” a hit for Lucille Starr, and traditional songs “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away,” all of which are not on earlier Ian & Sylvia albums.

The 13 songs – many of them country classics – on the second CD labeled “Previously Unreleased” are also not on earlier Ian & Sylvia albums.

Some of my favorites the this disc include a countrified version of Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind”; Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” a then-current hit for Johnny Rodriguez; an uncharacteristic version of “Come On in My Kitchen,” a Robert Johnson blues; and Jimmie Rodgers “Jimmie’s Texas Blues.”

There are also duets of Sylvia singing with Lucille Starr on “Crying Time” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”

The album ends with Ian singing lead on “The Goodnight Loving Trail,” Utah Phillips’ great song about a used-up cowboy relegated to chuckwagon duty on cattle drives in the 1860s. This performance of “The Goodnight Loving Trail” was a precursor to the decades Ian would spend – beginning in the 1980s and continuing to this day – as perhaps the greatest writer and interpreter of authentic cowboy music.

This album is a nice reminder of the historic importance of Ian & Sylvia to folk music and to the emergence of country rock.

Ian & Sylvia’s The Lost Tapes will be released on September 6.

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Mike Regenstreif

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