Saturday, September 28, 2013
You Were On My Mind - Ian and Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird
Ian and Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird
Columbia KC 31337
The end of the road for Ian and Sylvia Tyson after a long and wonderful journey. Appropriately their final album was recorded at Toronto Sound in Toronto the city where they first met and began their career together. They revived the name of their country-rock group, the Great Speckled Bird, for this album but only drummer N. D. Smart remained from the line up that recorded "The Great Speckled Bird" album. The record gets off to a rousing start with a cover of Robbie Robertson's "Get Up Jake." The Band recorded it for their album "The Band" but left it off the record and it was later a B-side on one of their singles. Ian and Sylvia always had excellent taste in their choice of outside music to cover and this is no exception. They give it a rollicking country-rock treatment with Ian delivering a thunderous lead vocal and Sylvia providing the sweet harmony vocal for the chorus. I greatly prefer their version to the version by the Band. Ian's "Old Cheyenne" is an evocative rodeo song, the sort of song Ian has always excelled at. It is country-folk until the chorus where Peter Ecklund's trumpet kicks in, giving it more of a pop feel. Sylvia sings lead on the joint Ian and Sylvia composition "Antelope" which is indeed about antelopes. I find her plaintive vibrato-laden vocal very touching as she delivers her ecology-themed lyrics. Sylvia also sings lead on her song "Miriam" which is one of the more unusual songs in the Ian and Sylvia catalog. She is accompanied solely by a piano and a quartet of cellos giving the song a chamber pop sound as she sings about her lost friendship with the title character. The traditional gospel song "Lonesome Valley" gets a funky country rock treatment notable for Jim Colegrove's big bass groove and some slinky guitar riffs from David Wilcox and Ben Keith. The Tysons trade lead vocals on the verses and sing the chorus together backed up by harmonies from the band for a very energized and vigorous sound. Side two opens with a new version of Sylvia's famous song "You Were On My Mind" which the duo first recorded on their classic 1964 album "Northern Journey." The new version is a bouncy country rock version punctuated with some piercing steel guitar lines from Ben Keith and trumpet riffs from Peter Ecklund. I can't say I prefer it to the original but it is definitely more lively. Sylvia's "Joshua" is a traditional style folk song, although with Sylvia playing harpsichord and chimes it has a chamber pop feel to it. Ian's "You're Not Alone Anymore" returns the album to country music. Ian delivers a very robust and romantic vocal for this love song. Ian also wrote "Salmon In the Sea" which is another ecology-minded ode to nature akin to "Antelope." It is a folk song with a lovely combined vocal from the Tysons. The joint composition "The Beginning of the End" is pure country with an emotional vocal from Ian and a beautiful harmony vocal from Sylvia. It is a song about heartbreak and separation and I'm tempted to think it is about their impending break-up like "Everybody Has To Say Goodbye" on "Ian & Sylvia," but it lacks the personal quality of that song. The song that I think most reflects the state of their marriage is the album closer, Sylvia's "Bill (Won't You Please Take Me Home)" which is my favorite original song on the album. It is about a married couple who go to a party where the husband meets up with an old flame from the past. She sees them dancing and realizes that he loves his old girlfriend more than he loves her. The party in the song may be fiction, but the poignant quality of Sylvia's heartbroken lead vocal suggests to me that the feeling of loss she is expressing is real. I find it very moving. It is a powerful song that gives the album a strong finish. I'm consistently engaged and entertained by this album, but it is bittersweet to me since it was their final record. Since I first heard Ian and Sylvia as a teen, I've always felt a deep emotional connection to their music, they are among my very favorite pop artists. I enjoy their solo records too, but they don't have the same resonance for me as their joint work. The beauty, the idealism and the passion expressed in their work as a couple is inspiring to me and I'll always treasure their records. This album is a very worthy addition to their wonderful catalog and I'm happy at least that they ended their partnership with such a fine record. Recommended to fans of Gordon Lightfoot.