Ian & Sylvia,
The Complete Vanguard Studio Recordings
(Vanguard, 2001)

Folk music history in a box is the only way that I can describe this treasure. Here on four CDs you get seven albums of top-quality writing, playing and performing that will not be equalled.

Ian & Sylvia Tyson are the epitome of what folk music was in the 1960s and what it should be today. They brought beautiful, simple arrangements and clear voices to a variety of songs. The music here ranges from old traditionals to Bob Dylan and self-penned classics.

Opening with "Rocks and Gravel" recorded in 1963 and ending with "Je T'Aime Marielle," a previously unreleased track, they can transport you back four decades to hear how it really was.

I remember the 1960s and hearing two songs by Ian & Sylvia. They were Tommy Makem's classic "Little Beggar Man" and "Four Strong Winds" from Ian Tyson. They spurred a love of folk music that lasts to this day.

Even looking at the listing here will bring a nostalgic lump to the throat. "Old Blue," "Pride of Petrovar," " Down By the Willow Garden," "Katy Dear" and "Spanish is a Loving Tongue" are tracks out of 26 on just the first of this boxed set. The next CD has another 25 mixing traditional with their own compositions.

Among my personal favourites are what is seen as the first album recording of Dylan's "Wheel's on Fire" and their recording of "Circle Game" by a then up-and-coming Joni Mitchell. Such is the history of this duo. They premiered works by folk icons.

One such writer is quoted on the cover saying "I would not be where I am today without them." The words were from Gordon Lightfoot. "Early Morning Rain" was the title track of an album in 1965 and you get it here.

Listening to this set is like going round a maze. At every turn there is a surprise. Here there is a song by Scott Mackenzie, the man whose later hit "San Francisco" would be an anthem of Flower Power. Then a version of "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" or an almost forgotten "Darcy Farrow."

Add to the 90-plus tracks a beautifully produced booklet chronicling the duo in their years with Vanguard, background to the songs and lots of rare photographs, and you have a slight idea of the treasure on offer here.

My only regret about this CD is that it was released in 2001 and I have missed three years of enjoying it.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 25 April 2004

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