Music Review | Ian Tyson's "Carnero Vaquero"

The legendary cowboy crooner still makes quite an impact.
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Credit: Hesh Photo

Credit: Hesh Photo

Ian Tyson
Carnero Vaquero
Stony Plain Records;
iantyson.com

“It’s a little early to tell, but I think this album is creating quite an impact—certainly more than my last two or three,” Ian Tyson says from the road, where the 81-year-old Western-music icon is playing to packed houses and debuting lots of material from his new album, Carnero Vaquero. “Of course, I have my voice back now. If you’re a singer, that’s quite an important aspect of the whole thing.”

Tyson suffered an accident in 2007 that ravaged his throat, leaving his voice sounding torn and damaged. After a successful throat surgery and intense rehabilitation, his voice has regained its clear tone and nuance.

Tyson puts his rejuvenated instrument to good use on Carnero Vaquero, his 13th album with Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records. The album features five new Tyson originals, along with fresh takes on traditional tunes such as “Doney Gal,” which Tyson originally recorded in the early ’60s during his folk-music days as Ian & Sylvia.

Tyson recorded the album in a century-old stone building on his ranch, just south of Calgary in Alberta, where he runs a yearling operation. The building is about a mile down a gravel road from his ranch house, and is where Tyson goes to write and practice when he’s not touring.

“That old house has a sound of its own,” he says. “I had a feeling it would help provide a consistent sound and attitude for the album.” 

He also enlisted the talents of pianist Catherine Marx, who’s played with everyone from Reba McEntire and Merle Haggard to Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt, to add tonal color and flourish to the arrangements.

“She’s a minimalist, but everything she plays is just right,” says Tyson. “She sets a real vibe, and that’s a pretty elusive thing—you either get it or you don’t.”

Carnero Vaquero isa stylistically diverse album, with songs that range from tender ballads like “Doney Gal” and “Darcy Farrow” to the loping “Colorado Horses” and upbeat tunes like “Will James” and “Jughound Ronnie.” It’s also consistently engaging and entertaining, and stands up to repeat listens. If there’s a unifying theme, it’s found in songs like “Cottonwood Canyon” and “Wolves No Longer Sing,” written with pal Tom Russell, that turn an observant eye to the changing West as only Tyson can. It’s a theme that many of Tyson’s longtime fans and citizens of the West will appreciate.

“My music is for them—we like to think of it as music for grownups who live in the country,” Tyson says. “I hope people derive some joy from it. I’m just really happy to be able to be able to give them this music at this point in time.”