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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2007 | Vanguard Records

Founded in 1950 by brothers Seymour Solomon and Maynard Solomon just as the LP format was taking hold (it had been introduced to the market two years previously), Vanguard Records took full advantage of the longer playing time afforded and began life as a classical label, moving easily into jazz, then gospel, bluegrass, blues, and folk (as Joan Baez's label, they had a high profile during the 1960s folk revival), eventually experimenting with rock groups like the Frost, although folk and classical remained the label's forte. Vanguard was sold to the Welk Group in 1985. The new owners set about revitalizing the imprint's back catalog, and also began adding contemporary recordings of country and pop artists as the 21st century began. To celebrate the imprint's rapidly approaching 60th anniversary, Vanguard has released a series of brief artist samplers (Vanguard Visionaries) from the label's peak 1960s and early-'70s era, including this one from Ian & Sylvia. The then-husband-and-wife duo recorded some ten albums for Vanguard between 1962 and 1967, and this brief sampler is representative of their work for the imprint. The clear highlights here are a classic original each from the pair, Ian's "Four Strong Winds" and Sylvia's "You Were on My Mind." © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Ian & Sylvia's debut album is their most standard affair, and indeed a fairly typical contemporary folk recording, with such traditional warhorses as "Rocks and Gravel" (also recorded, but not released, by Dylan during the same time), "C.C. Rider," and "Handsome Molly." What made the pair immediately distinctive was their superb vocal dueting, which was definitely a case of the sum being greater than its parts. Blended together, they canceled each other's weaknesses and gave the material great freshness and vigor. Ian's guitar and Sylvia's autoharp are backed by stellar playing from guitarist John Herald and string bassists Bill Lee (director Spike Lee's father) and Art Davis. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Best of the Vanguard Years marks the first upgrading of the Ian & Sylvia CD catalog with an improved version of The Essential Ian & Sylvia; with cleaner mastering and some songs added (most notably a pair of numbers -- the best here -- from the Live at Newport disc issued in the '90s) for a total of 25. The sound is an improvement over the earlier CD versions, although the duo's music was so utterly underproduced -- what annotator Ed Ward calls a hallmark of their sound -- that this is represented by quieter background, rather than any astoundingly vivid textures. The obvious songs ("Four Strong Winds," "Some Day Soon," "You Were on My Mind," "The Circle Game," "Early Morning Rain," "Changes") are here, along with many less familiar numbers ("Mary Anne," "This Wheel's on Fire," "Satisfied Mind," "Keep on the Sunny Side," a live version of "The Greenwood Sidie"), although quite a few superb album tracks are still to be found exclusively on the duo's individual CDs. The main drawback is that the duo weren't always that interesting -- both are surprisingly credible working in a blues idiom ("Rocks and Gravel," in a previously unissued alternate take), but when they cut with a full rock band, as on "When I Was a Cowboy," it's not always very inspired or effective; on the other hand, the harmonizing on "Play One More," melded with the unobtrusive string and horn section, is breathtaking. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

This brief sampler of tracks from Ian & Sylvia's stay at Vanguard Records in the mid- to late- 1960s could almost be called a greatest-hits collection, since it contains one of Ian Tyson's best songs, "Someday Soon," and one of the finest from Sylvia Fricker, "You Were on My Mind," which was a huge folk-rock hit for We Five, but in the end it lacks key songs like Tyson's magnificent "Four Strong Winds" and is simply too short to adequately cover this stellar folk duo's career at Vanguard, particularly when the label itself has issued much more extensive single-disc compilations. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

The duo continue to fill out their sound on another collection of mostly traditional material, with John Herald (guitar), Monte Dunn (mandolin and guitar), and Eric Weissberg and Russ Savakus (bass) backing Ian & Sylvia's own guitar and autoharp. The few originals stand out much more than the traditional updates on this LP; Tyson's "Four Rode By" and "Some Day Soon" clearly point toward his future C&W/cowboy direction, and Fricker's "You Were on My Mind" remains their best (and best-known) song. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Ian & Sylvia hit their stride on their second LP, which features the first in a line of talented second guitarists (John Herald) they would use to augment their original guitar-autoharp-basslineup. The album featured an assortment of largely traditional material that was unsurpassed in its time, encompassing bluegrass, spirituals, gospel, hillbilly, the French-Canadian standard "V'La L'bon Vent," a British prison song, and two tunes from the Cecil Sharp collection of Southern mountain folk songs of British origin. Two of the most impressive cuts, however, were contemporary compositions. One was their version of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," one of the first obscure Dylan tunes to be committed to vinyl. The title cut, an Ian Tyson original, would prove to be the duo's first song to influence rock musicians, as the Searchers covered it shortly afterwards with a reverent version that was quite close to the original; Neil Young revived it in the late '70s. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Side one of the original LP version of their fourth album continues in the eclectic folky style of their earlier albums, containing only one original (Tyson's "Marlborough Street Blues"). The other cuts include the fine Gordon Lightfoot title track, a Johnny Cash cover ("Come in Stranger") that heralded their increasing interest in country & western music, one of their finest interpretations of a bona fide traditional warhorse ("Nancy Whiskey"), and "Darcy Farrow," a fine obscure composition that could pass for a traditional standard (written for the duo by an unknown Californian singer/songwriter pair). Side two, however, with the exception of one traditional tune and another Lightfoot cover, is composed entirely of originals. The most notable of these is Tyson's "Song for Canada" (written with Pete Gzowski). A bittersweet plea for greater communication between French- and English-speaking Canadians, it could just as well be heard as a comment on any sort of deteriorating relationship. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1967 | Universal Records

Licensed from Universal Music Special Markets, this CD combines the contents of Ian & Sylvia's seventh (Lovin' Sound; 1967) and ninth (Full Circle; 1968) albums. Why, one may wonder, not combine, say, the duo's seventh and eighth (Nashville; 1968) albums or, even more logically, their eighth and ninth (both of which were recorded in Nashville, TN, in 1968) instead? The answer lies in the vagaries of Ian & Sylvia's record label affiliations. They recorded six albums for the small independent Vanguard and then signed to MGM Records, a much larger entity, for which they recorded Lovin' Sound. Sylvia Tyson is fond of telling interviewers (as she did annotator Richie Unterberger for this set) that the Vanguard contract was "ambiguous," but Vanguard's lawyers did not see it that way, and they claimed that Ian & Sylvia still owed the company one more album. When they prevailed, Nashville went to Vanguard, and the duo returned to MGM for Full Circle. So, this collection combines Lovin' Sound and Full Circle because those are the two albums in the MGM catalog, now controlled by Universal, while Vanguard has since been sold to the Welk Music Group. As such, the listener gets to hear two distinct phases of Ian & Sylvia's work. On Lovin' Sound, they were adapting to the folk-rock style of the mid-'60s, discreetly adding keyboards, electric guitar, bass, and drums, along with the occasional string chart, to their folk-based original songs and covers by Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash. Although both Tysons were accomplished songwriters, they were making records too quickly in the '60s to write all the songs themselves. Five of their six Vanguard albums had reached the charts, and MGM probably intended to try to break them even bigger, giving a strong pop arrangement to Ian Tyson's title song, which was released as a single simultaneously with the album in the late spring of 1967. It only scraped the bottom of the singles charts, however, and the LP was also just a modest seller. Forty years later, it remains a charming effort, boasting a couple of strong Sylvia Tyson compositions in "Where Did All the Love Go?" and "Trilogy." Ian Tyson's efforts are less impressive, although "Mr. Spoons" is a touching tribute to the couple's son, and "National Hotel," given a zany arrangement, looks lightheartedly at the ups and downs of life on the road. Arriving more than a year later and in the wake of Nashville (which Vanguard had no incentive to promote, condemning it to obscurity), Full Circle finds Ian & Sylvia again following musical trends by recording with country musicians including a pedal steel guitarist and fiddlers. Notwithstanding this instrumentation, the album is an eclectic collection that ranges from rock ("Shinbone Alley") to the kind of personal singer/songwriter style starting to emerge from the folk revival in the person of Joni Mitchell (Sylvia Tyson's solo turn, "Woman's World"). Again, the duo appears to have been pressed to come up with material, even to the point of re-recording "Mr. Spoons." But their inclusion of Dylan and Rick Danko's "Tears of Rage" (their third cover of a song from Dylan and the Band's "basement tapes" after putting "This Wheel's on Fire" and "The Mighty Quinn" on Nashville) demonstrates yet again their strengths as interpretive singers. Except for a few tracks on a 1994 compilation, this is the first time that Ian & Sylvia's MGM recordings have been back in print in decades, and they fill in a gap in the duo's history. (Perhaps the album went to the printer on a day when the company proofreader was sick. The song list printed on the back cover, the back of the CD booklet, and the disc itself contains the following errors: "Hang on to a Dream" is shown as "Hand [sic] On to a Dream"; "Woman's World" as "Women's [sic] World"; "Jinkson Johnson" as Jickson [sic] Johnson"; and "The Minstrel" as "The Minstral [sic]." In addition, songwriter Keith McKie, who wrote "Please Think," is listed as "McKei [sic].") © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1996 | Vanguard Records

Divided about equally between material from their appearances at the 1963 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals, these 14 tracks present concert versions of many of the duo's best songs, including "You Were on My Mind," "Someday Soon," "Song for Canada," and "Four Strong Winds." Eric Hord adds lead acoustic guitar on the 1963 cuts; Rick Turner does the same on the ones from 1965. Ian & Sylvia recorded studio versions of all of the songs on their '60s Vanguard albums, which makes this disc a sort of souvenir that's essential only for big fans, although the sound and performances are decent. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

After leaving Vanguard in 1967, Ian & Sylvia spent the next few years recording in a much more countrified style for MGM, Ampex (as figureheads of the band Great Speckled Bird), and Columbia. This compilation -- ironically on Vanguard -- draws from five albums they released between 1967 and 1971. While the duo's ambitions to expand their artistic horizons were admirable, the fact is that they were much more effective as eclectic folkies than country-pop-folk-rockers. The harmonies remained intact, but the material (mostly original) is often humdrum, the arrangements sometimes lackadaisical. A few cuts, like "Salmon in the Sea" and "Last Lonely Eagle," are reasonably strong; the highlights are the 1967 versions of "Hang on to a Dream" and "Reason to Believe," which were among the first Tim Hardin covers ever recorded. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Ian & Sylvia's adjustment to folk-rock was sometimes fine, sometimes awkward, and this was another inconsistent, though generally worthwhile, effort. Highlights include "Circle Game," one of the very first recorded covers of a Joni Mitchell composition. Tyson's "Wild Geese" and "Child Apart" count as some of their better unheralded tunes, and the occasional muted orchestration worked well on "Circle Game" and the melancholy title track. On the other hand, the attempts at blues were abominable, the traditional ballads anachronistic, and some of the material (especially Fricker's) undistinguished. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 1968 | Universal Records

Ian & Sylvia had been making their country leanings more pronounced in their recordings a year or two prior to Full Circle. On Full Circle itself, they moved deeper into country and country-rock, the backup players including such stellar Nashville sidemen as Pete Drake, Ken Buttrey, Norbert Putnam, and Bill Purcell. At the same time, unfortunately, it continued the decline (if a very slow one) from their mid-'60s peak, due to the combination of somewhat weaker material and the frequent unsuitability of full-band arrangements to the duo's strengths. For all that, there are fitfully decent items here, showing the pair at least willing to take some chances with longer, more complex songs and some string and choir arrangements. Sylvia Fricker's "Woman's World" is a standout, and not at all typical of the rest of the LP, sounding rather like Joni Mitchell's early work in its feminist perspective and sensitive piano accompaniment, with no vocal contributions from Ian Tyson. Among the better remaining tracks are Ian Tyson's lengthy character study "Stories He'd Tell," the jaunty country-folk of "Please Think," and "Mr. Spoons," the last of which, oddly, the duo had released (in a different version) on their Lovin' Sound LP just a year earlier. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Folk/Americana - Released January 1, 2006 | Vanguard Records

Like all of Ian & Sylvia's post-1965 albums from the '60s, on first hearing, this is disappointing in comparison to their early folk albums, though it tends to grow on one and offer some satisfactions upon closer inspection. The duo recorded this in Nashville in early 1968, just as making albums in the city started to become in vogue among rock musicians. Some of the cuts have an early country-rock feel that did show them moving ahead artistically, though the pair were not among the most distinguished country-rockers. A couple of covers of songs from Bob Dylan's basement tapes, "Wheel's on Fire" and "The Mighty Quinn," got the most attention, and were the most country-rock-oriented of the tunes. Sometimes, though, it was devoted to originals that leaned more toward the dual harmonizing that was their forte, with mild rock arrangements. While such efforts in this vein as "Taking Care of Business," "Ballad of the Ugly Man," and "She'll Be Gone" were not among their most outstanding efforts, they were characteristically pleasing. Ian Tyson's "House of Cards" had an earnest foreboding not far in mood lyrically from "Wheel's on Fire," and like the cover of guitarist David Rea's "90 Degrees by 90 Degrees," had some subtle orchestration. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo