Ian Tyson is a western troubadour. Ian Tyson is a cowboy poet. Ian Tyson is nearly 80 years old. To many, and I include myself in that number, Ian Tyson is a beloved icon. Here is a new and, speaking personally, eagerly anticipated Ian Tyson album. The question is, what kind of album? Well, it ain't no Eighteen Inches of Rain and it ain't no Cowboyography. But it's pretty good nonetheless.
Tyson fans are aware that back in 2006, he sustained what Wikipedia calls "irreversible scarring" to his vocal cords as a result of a concert. The result is what Tyson himself now says is a "gravelly" voice. That resonant timbre and wide range you remember from his earlier body of work is no more, that's for sure. And irreversible means it isn't coming back.
Anyone thinking about buying the album or individual songs from it needs to be aware of all this going in. As one other reviewer says, caveat emptor; and of course that's true of any purchase any time. But anyone who may have been initially shocked listening to his Yellowhead to Yellowstone album a few years ago should know what to expect now.
If you can get past the fact that this isn't the Ian Tyson of 1985 or 1995, this is a pretty good collection of songs. Tyson's songwriting is as ever, and this collection is a good one. On some tracks, Tyson's new "gravelly" voice isn't much more than a whisper. But the Tyson view of the world remains. If Tyson's voice has been somewhat diminished, his sensibility has been if anything enhanced. Life is about loss--lost youth, lost possibilities, lost loves. Ian's voice reflects eloquently the poignacy of passing time, both his own and, of course, everyone's--and for that reason, the album is affecting to me.
Back in 1948, Satchell Paige, then age 45 or 55 or whatever, came out of the Negro Leagues to help pitch the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. People who had seen Satch in the '20s and '30s said he was just a shadow of his earlier dominant self. Undoubtedly, but Paige still helped pitch the team to the world championship, diminished skills or not. And what a treat it must have been to see the old man still pitching. I don't know if Raven Singer is World Series material--I rated it at 4 stars: pretty good, not great--and it probably isn't Tyson's best work ever: but it's Ian Tyson, western troubadour and cowboy poet working his craft. If you like Ian Tyson, it's well worth your time. If you love Ian Tyson, it's a must-have. To me, it's a treat to be able to listen to the man continue to produce songs such as these.