Ian & Sylvia iTunes Tracks

Ian & Sylvia

Canadian couple Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker were one of the finds of the early 60s folk movement, having met in Toronto, Ontario in 1959. The fruits of their harmony-strewn labour were ever so apparent for future folk-rockers JEFFERSON AIRPLANE, The MAMAS AND THE PAPAS and FAIRPORT CONVENTION, while Canadian stars GORDON LIGHTFOOT, JONI MITCHELL, NEIL YOUNG, et al, owed a great debt to the duo’s inspiration and influence.
Switching North American allegiance and relocating to New York in 1960, the couple tied up a deal with svengali/manager Albert Grossman, who fixed them up with Vanguard Records. The eponymous IAN & SYLVIA (1962) {*6} was par for the course, a standard record providing staple traditional folk (and blues) fare such as `Un Canadien Errant’, `C.C. Rider’, `Rocks And Gravel’ and `When First Unto This Country’. With both singers proving more than competent on guitar and autoharp respectively, IAN & SYLVIA were also joined by guitarist John Heard (who incidentally stuck around until 1965), plus bassists Bill Lee (Spike Lee’s dad) and Art Davis.
FOUR STRONG WINDS (1963) {*7} found the duo harnessing further trad material, although this time it stemmed from hillbilly/mountain, spiritual/gospel and bluegrass. While the title track was an Ian Tyson original subsequently covered by a plethora of folk and country stars (there was also a reading of DYLAN’s `Tomorrow Is A Long Time’), the album’s highlights came courtesy of `Poor Lazarus’, `Spanish Is A Loving Tongue’ and Canadian staple `V’la L’bon Vent’.
With NORTHERN JOURNEY (1964) {*6}, IAN & SYLVIA (who’d just tied the knot) had their inaugural entry into the Top 100, while the record showed signs of their ability to scribe their own tunes, Ian on `Someday Soon’ and `Four Rode By’, Sylvia on `You Were On My Mind’ (the latter a US hit for WE FIVE, a UK one for CRISPIAN ST. PETERS); Eric Weissberg played bass on the set (so too did Russ Savakus), Monte Dunn played mandolin and guitar.
Taking their fourth LP title from a GORDON LIGHTFOOT song, EARLY MORNING RAIN (1965) {*6} took the duo deeper into C&W territory via versions of JOHNNY CASH’s `Come In Stranger’ and STEVE GILLETTE’s `Darcy Farrow’, while Tyson authored a few pieces including the Pete Gzowski co-penned `Song For Canada’; LIGHTFOOT also supplied `For Lovin’ Me’, the public domain for `Nancy Whiskey’.
Relying on session people such as bassist Felix Pappalardi (a future MOUNTAIN member), PLAY ONE MORE (1966) {*5}, proved too erratic for most purist folk fans with a song-set stretching from PHIL OCHS’ `Changes’ and SCOTT McKENZIE’s `Hey, What About Me’ to BILL MONROE’s bluegrass cue, `Molly And Tenbrooks’ and the GENE PITNEY oldie, `Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’; while Tyson contributed two mediocre numbers, the couple’s best songwriting moments were `The French Girl’ and `Short Grass’.
Famous for being the first record to feature JONI MITCHELL’s `Circle Game’, the final Vanguard set, SO MUCH FOR DREAMING (1967) {*6}, was another to deliver a staple diet of Tyson or Fricker songs (i.e. `Wild Geese’ and `Child Apart’) side by side with traditional ballads such as `Cutty Wren’, `Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies’ and `Catfish Blues’.
IAN & SYLVIA’s move into country-folk increased with each passing LP, this was indeed evident on their M.G.M. debut, LOVIN’ SOUND (1967) {*4}, an off-course collision of renditions of songs by JOHNNY CASH (`Big River’), DYLAN (`I Don’t Believe You’) and TIM HARDIN (`Reason To Believe’ and `Hang On To A Dream’). Okay, these were mainly folk-rock fare, but the inclusion of seasoned session players like orchestral arranger Paul Harris (on keys), David Sea (on guitar) and Harvey Brooks (bass), took the couple out of their staid musical situation.
A second set for the label, FULL CIRCLE (1968) {*3}, seemed to emphasize their near-full-blown country allegiance, back-up now stemming from Ken Buttrey, Norbert Putnam, Pete Drake and Bill Purcell, four of the leading Nashville sessioners. A low point in IAN & SYLVIA’s canon, the record at least boasted the first version of Fricker’s `Woman’s World’, while it was ill-advised to repeat `Mr. Spoons’ from their previous effort; Vanguard re-issued the sets as a two-fer-one re-introduction to their roster.
If one needed even more proof of the couple’s desire to go the big country-rock route, 1968’s appropriately-titled NASHVILLE {*5} was indeed the icing on the proverbial cake. Squeezed somewhere in between DYLAN’s “Basement Tapes” and his “Nashville Skyline” country set, IAN & SYLVIA opened the set with two from the former recordings: `The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)’ and `This Wheel’s On Fire’; session guitar man Rea supplied `90 Degrees By 90 Degrees’.
It was clear the Tysons’ needed a new direction if they were to succeed in the fickle musical market place – the eponymous GREAT SPECKLED BIRD (1970) {*7} nearly did it, although it was just another country-rock effort showcased by an evolving band that comprised Amos Garrett (guitar, vocals), Buddy Cage (pedal steel guitar), N.D. Smart (drums), David Briggs (piano) and Ken Kalmusky (bass); it was also TODD RUNDGREN’s introduction into outside production work.
There were two further LPs for Columbia Records subsequently released, IAN AND SYLVIA… WITH DAVID WILCOX (1971) {*4} and another alongside The GREAT SPECKLED BIRD, YOU WERE ON MY MIND (1972) {*4}; Billy Mundi was now on drums, Red Shea had replaced Wilcox, Gordon Fleming was now on piano.
However, the couple divorced in 1973, and went their own solo ways, both releasing a plethora of country-fied albums which were again influential, but on another level.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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