These days Ian Tyson may well be better known for his Western music (recorded for such labels as Columbia, Stony Plain and Vanguard) and showing off his roping skills (from his rodeo rider days) in the Talking Heads' movie True Stories. Back in the 1960s, however, he was one half of a highly influential duo with first wife Sylvia Fricker. Together they produced some of the most memorable contemporary folk songs of the era and, in the process, becameCanada's best-selling folk performers.
Ian & Sylvia's atmospheric hits like 'Early Morning Rain' and 'Four Strong Winds' would be instrumental in opening the door to the American market for a flood of Canadian singers and musicians. Among the most notable of these were Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot (who wrote 'Early Morning Rain'), Neil Young (who recorded Tyson's 'Four Strong Winds') and Leonard Cohen. The duo would also strongly influence many of the rock bands of the 60s, as 'beat' music and folk-rock fused into the progressive genre. Groups like the Jefferson Airplane, Mamas & Papas, the Searchers (who scored a hit with 'Four Strong Winds') and We Five (the latter had a Top 3 hit in 1965 with Sylvia's song 'You Were On My Mind'), all owe them a harmony vocal debt.
Ian & Sylvia's own sound was fresh and contemporary yet it had strong roots in both folk and country music. Aside from their original material, they were among the first to cover songs by then relatively unknown songwriters like Bob Dylan ('Tomorrow Is A Long Time'), Phil Ochs ('Changes') and Joni Mitchell ('Circle Game'). The latter title was covered by Ian & Sylvia in 1966 a full year before Joni recorded her own first album.
They also brought to the folk scene a much-welcomed sense of fashion and hipness. As writer Colin Escott asserts in his notes to this lovingly assembled Vanguard retrospective: 'In Ian & Sylvia's good looks, uncommon intelligence, and glacial aloofness, a generation found a mirror of itself. They were the epitome of early 60s coffeehouse chic...When they split some twelve years after coming together, they left a body of work, untainted by politics, that now seems ageless. “The Complete Vanguard Studio Recording”' assembles on four CDs all seven of their duo albums for that label beginning with their 1963 eponymous début and finishing with the country rock of 1968s 'Nashville'.
Many fine players accompany these collaborations including Spike Lee's father Bill, Felix Pappalardi (prior to his work with Cream), John Herald (then of the bluegrass outfit the Greenbriar Boys and in recent years a solo visitor to theUK) and Eric Weissberg (later of 'Deliverance' fame). The 'Nashville' set features great country pickers like Jerry Reed and Fred Carter plus the musicians that would eventually become Area Code 615. The album's cover of Dylan's 'This Wheel's On Fire' predates that of The Band's and may well be the first released version.