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Americana singer-songwriter Tom Russell has made a lot of albums, and among those you can count a number of admirable concept albums. Now he has another to add to the list, as he generously covers an album of songs by famed 1960s folk act Ian & Sylvia (Tyson). Russell even recorded the album in Toronto, Canada!     


While I have one or two reservations due to the lack of Tyson classics “Summer Wages”, “Four Strong Winds”, “Someday Soon” and “You Were On My Mind” (Sylvia), but Russell (vocals, acoustic guitar) aided by Cindy Church (harmony vocals) and Grant Siemens (lead acoustic and electric guitar) comes through with a wonderful recording.  

On first hearing I felt the music lacked an edge, but after a listen or two I became hooked. For one Russell keeps it simple, doesn’t try anything spectacular vocally or otherwise. Some of the songs are like old friends to a man well familiar not only with the Tyson’s music but the whole scene and able to drop in the groove at the drop of a hat.

Among the finest tracks I offer you “Thrown To The Wolves”, a song Russell co-wrote with Sylvia Tyson but never recorded him self, but it does figure on her album “Gypsy Cadillac” (co-produced by Russell) and with him excelling there’s “The Renegade”. His sensitive handling of the songs could not be faulted and unlikely to be bettered, and with Church’s harmony vocals and Siemens’ playing most impressive (the former’s slide adds much to a number of tracks).


When it comes to standouts I can’t separate or leave out “The Night The Chinese Restaurant Burned Down”, “Short Grass” (Church rises to the occasion with style on called to play a bigger role) and “Sam Bonnifield’s Saloon” (sounds like Grant has found him self a Dobro or National Steel; whichever it is it lends a wonderful feel to the track). All are great story-ballads and you’ll be hard pressed to better or finer versions!


By some twist of fate the two songs that bear Russell name as a co-writer, first with Sylvia and then Ian both feature ‘wolves’ in the title. “Thrown To the Wolves” and the more dogged “When The Wolves No Longer Sing” by each act respectively, are worthy inclusions. Likewise goes for the two bonus tracks, two previously unreleased demos from the Tyson’s them selves “Grey Morning” and “The French Girl”; the former from Sylvia is excellent and sounds newer. While the latter has Ian on lead and is an old recording, one very much in keeping with the early 1960s folk era.    


Church is an artist I’ve admired for a long time. Her first three solo albums and association with the award winning all-female act, Quartette in the 1990s were memorable times for the former member of Ian Tyson’s band. Sylvia Tyson was and still is a member. In covering songs outside those more famous Russell will undoubtedly have helped enhanced the standing of Ian and Sylvia’s music, and there’s plenty to check on too. Both their duet albums and those that followed; Ian’s western albums on Stony Plain aren’t to be missed.


                                                                  Maurice Hope      


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