Ian & Sylvia were a bright light in the folk scene of the early ’60s. They were bright, energetic, and adventurous. They never tried to sound like rural singers, because they weren’t. They were professional entertainers who used folk music as a platform upon which to create their own style of contemporary song. Their arrangements were fresh, and the presence of a flatpicking guitarist helped their sound immensely. Their vocal harmonies are what stand out as being the most daring and enduring aspect of their music (check out the soaring a-capella version of The Greenwood Sidie [The Cruel Mother]).
Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker were also both good songwriters, who penned several tracks that became hits in the hands of wimpier, poppier singers such as The We Five. In the wake of Bob Dylan’s electrification of folk music, they tried to keep up with the trends, going electric, and eventually, sappy and un-listenable. Eventually they split up, with Ian Tyson reinventing himself as a cowboy singer.
But these tracks come from their early acoustic years, when they perfectly embodied all that was exciting about folk music. Just listen to the incredibly energetic French Canadian rowing song V’le Le Bon Vent, or the up-tempo C.C. Rider. You’ll be bouncing in spite of yourself. They could also sing a fine slow ballad or blues song when it was called for, and pull out enough tight quavering vibrato to carry it off.
Recorded at the 1963 & 65 Newport Folk Festival