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Ian Tyson

Yellowhead to Yellowstone – 2009 (Stony Plain)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Ian Tyson

Ian Tyson's voice used to roll through his songs of cowboys, critters and the West like thunder rumbling across the plain from a far-distant storm. That's not the case anymore. For those who have relished the booming, assured voice of an incredibly distinguished singer whose career spans five decades, the first few reedy, strained notes virtually whispered by Tyson on his newest record is painfully distracting.

But then it all becomes as clear as a Rocky Mountain creek in his native Canada. On song six, the solemn, emotional Estrangement, Tyson reveals he isn't some hanger-on or someone to be pitied because the pipes aren't what they were. Much like Johnny Cash singing Hurt, Tyson on this one song makes it clear he is now one of music's elder statesmen, an artist who has woven his name into the fabric of North American music.

Entanglement crystallizes Tyson's 10-song offering. Though the lower range of his voice is shot following a fight he lost with a crummy sound system several years back, there's a new comfort level as Tyson sings the tale of a pack of wolves on the gorgeous, lyrical title cut. Bill Kane takes his place alongside other Tyson characters like rodeo champ Casey Tibbs, Adelita Rose and Claude Dallas.

Tyson's now 75 and the years clearly show not only on his face, but in his voice. Is he ready to sidle off into the sunset? Hardly.