Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ian & Sylvia: Canadiana Duo

Clearing out storage is a pain in the ass until you uncover some rare artifacts that make it all worthwhile. As I was unpacking some boxes that had been stored for over 10 years, I found a little gem - Ian and Sylvia Tyson's self-titled album from 1971. It was released just a year after the classic, Great Speckled Bird, and mines the same country-rock sound that the duo had begun excavating on their 1968 release, Nashville.

Great Speckled Bird
Ian and Sylvia did what only a few other rock or folk musicians were doing in 1968 - they traveled to Nashville to record and embarked on playing a hybrid of country-rock with a Canadian twist. Apart from Bob Dylan and the Band, few others were heading in the same direction with as much flair or aptitude for authentic country. They were ahead of the pack and while there they released some stellar albums that are worth checking out for those with an interest in Canadiana that goes beyond Stompin' Tom and the odd stubby.

The album opens with a David Wiffen tune, "More Often Than Not" that appeared on his Fantasy debut the same year. It also includes the definitive version of "Summer Wages" and Sylvia singing a haunting cover of Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death."

But the absolute kicker for me is "Barney." Ian relates the story of shooting a horse that's got to be one of the most moving and tender ballads written for an animal I've ever heard...and that includes the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."


Yesterday morning the snow came at last
The cattle all came down from the hills
Barney, he’s been crippled for quite a long while now
His old legs stiff and bare in the chill
Since coming up from Texas he’s been owned by many
And he’s been rodeoed and knocked all around
So to bury him deep before the ground got to hard
That morning I put Barney down

We walked up the hill through the dead brown grass
Barney, a rifle, and I
And tying him quickly I took aim and I fired
In the hopes he’d feel nothing and die
But with a heart such as he had he clung so to life
Bust his halter and staggered away
He was coughing his blood still fighting to stand
When he pitched foreword and died where he lay

As I drove into town I started to cry
Where no one could see or could care
The sadness cut through me as I stared through my tears
And rush hours on coming there
I wept for my seasons of youth past and done
And for things that I thought I forgot
But mostly I cried for an honest brown horse
Who gave me much more than he got


  1. During the sessions for this album, they also recorded a cover of Mickey & Sylvia's late 1956 hit "Love Is Strange." Suffice it to say that this rendition (which predated by several months that by Paul McCartney and his then-new band Wings as on their debut LP Wild Life) is . . . well, strange. Alas, Ian & Sylvia's take on this oft-covered tune was unreleased for a quarter-century, until German-based Bear Family Records added this and three other bonus tracks to their 1996 CD reissue of this LP as The Beginning of the End. It can be heard as the third and last cover in a clip of different cover versions (others by Peaches & Herb and The Everly Brothers) on: