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This Is My Sky: Songs from the Gravel Road (2010)

by on 2013/02/15

This Is My Sky: Songs from the Gravel Road (2010)

“It’s just this long pattern in my life, you know. It seems that something’s always come along and opened up for me. I’m very aware of that, and pretty grateful, but I’m coming to the end of the trail now. It’s been pretty amazing, a pretty amazing ride.”

* * *

I clearly remember first noticing Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds”. Appropriately, it was just after Canada Day in 2005, the Canadian Live 8 concert near Barrie, Ontario. I wasn’t there in person, which sounds a shame, but probably wasn’t; I’m not a fan of the outdoors, Porta Potties, or discomfort in general.

Besides, I spent enough time adjusting the antenna on my TV. There was no way I was going to waste that effort not watching it all day long.

When Neil Young took the stage and covered Ian & Sylvia’s hit, I sought it out – both the cover and original – and started looking for more stuff by the duo. I like old country, a fair bit of folk, and I’m cuckoo for Canadiana. It made good sense, I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to clue in.

Six years later, in a dying Zellers, about an hour north of Barrie, I found a DVD which picks up the tale again. A pack marked Ian Tyson: This Is My Sky contained two discs, a concert and this documentary, called Songs from the Gravel Road.

And like an idiot I decided, “I’ll think about it.”

I then went on to think about it for many agonizing months, as I couldn’t find it anywhere else, and don’t get to that town very often . . . more like once a year, I’m sorry to say. But damned if the next time I passed that way I didn’t find it right where I left it. No wonder Zellers was dying, talk about stock not turning over.

Anyway, Tyson was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1933. He went to school in Vancouver, aspired to ride in the rodeo, broke his ankle, and learned guitar in the hospital. He moved to Toronto, caught up with the coffee-house folkies, and met Sylvia Fricker. Together they embarked on a road of music and marriage, at least for a while.

(They also spent time in Greenwich Village, New York, and introduced Bob Dylan to marijuana. It’s fair to say the latter two got along better than the former.)

Ian left for Nashville, which didn’t work out too well, musically. Finding little success there, he learned the horse trade in his spare time. He returned to Canada, settling in Alberta, and has mostly worked ranches since then.

Now, at 75 years, he wants to connect with his musical friends, and spends much of the documentary visiting, chatting, jamming, and playing live. Those friends include musicians John Hiatt, Gordon Lightfoot, Corb Lund, and David Wilcox. Neil Young chimes in courtesy of an interview segment. What I’d have assumed would be a high point instead felt uncomfortable, awkward: a reunion at Sylvia Tyson’s Toronto home.

It’s mostly enjoyable though, even if darkly existential. Tyson’s an entertaining sort, a fellow you’d socialize with, hoping to catch him do something outrageous. He’s amusingly opinionated and frank, you might say ornery. He admits to having been jealous of Lightfoot, and has some colourful thoughts on Dylan.

But for all of his cantankerousness, he’s also oddly endearing, especially when he becomes forgetful – which happens from time to time – and must rely on his guests to supply memories. Being absent-minded doesn’t hurt his clarity of vision. He soberly recognizes his musical life has been sacrificed for ranching but, despite a few mixed feelings, he’s comfortable with the choice.

And so am I.

Which is to say, that I went back for the disc.

* * *

Not Rated

48+ minutes

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