Every so often when PBS is doing a fund-raiser, they’ll air a concert featuring a series of Folk acts from the 60s. The Brothers Four, what’s left of the Kingston Trio, the New Christy Minstrels and so on. Each act will sing a “medley of their hit,” usually off key and with about as much enthusiasm as one can muster for the one song for which you’re known and which you’ve been singing for fifty years. Much like the “classic rock” and “heavy metal/hair” acts that play the casino circuit, they’re trying to squeeze out a living based on nostalgia. Watching them perform tends to make me feel a mixture of sadness and embarrassment for them. I bring this up just so I can contrast it to Ian Tyson’s performance.
Did I mention that Ian is 81? He doesn’t get around quite as well as he once did when he rode his cutting horses in competitions all over the West. He can, however, still pick out a lively twin lead with his lead guitar player and after corrective surgery on his vocal chords a few years ago, his voice is as strong and true as singers half his age. Yes, he did sing some of his signature songs…“Someday Soon” and “Navajo Rug”…but mostly he focused on his newer material. He writes songs about the history of the West, about the Western lifestyle, about the beauties of the Rocky Mountains, and songs about the joy and pain of love in the West. He is a master songwriter. The melodies are engaging, the chord progressions varied and creative, the lyrics intelligent and fresh. You don’t have to be a cowboy or live on a ranch to appreciate his music; you just need to have a soul. By the way, at age 81, Ian is currently working on his next album project. He did some of the songs that will be on the new CD in his recent concert and they are amazing.
What I love about Ian Tyson, in addition to his wonderful music, is the same thing I love about artists like Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Neil Young as well as great female artist like Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow (younger than these greybeards I mentioned but still on the “mature side” of fifty). They don’t rest on their laurels or wallow in the past; they keep moving forward and making new music. I don’t think they can help themselves, it’s just who they are. In this pop culture we live in where young “superstars” in their early twenties are already writing their autobiographies, getting older is not a great marketing strategy for commercial success. That’s a shame. I realize that a lot of music consumers wouldn’t know quality music if it bit them on the butt. I just refuse to believe that’s true of everyone out there who purchases music though. If you are a thoughtful consumer, you can find some great new music. In the past year, Bruce Springsteen and Rosanne Cash have released stellar albums. John Mellencamp just released a fine new CD entitled “Plain Spoken!”
Recently, I said that every few weeks, I would post links on Facebook that include music tips so here goes. Along with the ones I mentioned above, I suggest you go to http://www.iantyson.com/ and in particular, check out Ian’s most recent album, “Raven Singer.” There’s also a CD from 2013 entitled “All the Good’uns, Volume 2.” It contains music from about the last fifteen years of Ian’s more than sixty year career and it will knock your socks off. Once you’ve done that, you’ll want to be on the alert for his next album of new material. Notice I said, “New material.” Ian Tyson’s got no time for nostalgia; he’s too busy creating his next masterpiece.