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Positive Feedback ISSUE 16
november/december 2004


Four Strong Winds, Ian and Sylvia - Cisco (Vanguard VSD-2149)
by Dave Glackin


Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker are the real deal. Ian and Sylvia were a folk singing duo from Canada who epitomized the folk music movement of the early-to-mid sixties. Their singing is vigorous, spirited, powerful, and obviously deeply felt. The performances that are captured on this LP sound spontaneous, even though they must have performed these songs many times together before making this outstanding recording. There is a great interplay in their vocals. Sylvia can sound soaring and ethereal one minute, and raw and earthy the next, while Ian's voice is rich and expressive. The duo accompany themselves with some gorgeous and virtuoso guitar and autoharp work. The instrumentals are rounded out by a second guitarist and a bassist. The album's title, Four Strong Winds, comes from the song composed by Ian about seasonal field workers in Canada who move on with the weather. As many people have pointed out, Ian and Sylvia were surely the models for Mitch and Mickey, the former-husband-and-wife-duo in the movie A Mighty Wind, which is a hilarious send-up of the folk movement.

The songs on this album comprise an eclectic mix of Anglo-American mountain music, bluegrass, African-American ballads and gospel, a French-Canadian rowing song, a Bob Dylan piece, and a British prison song. One of the mountain music pieces (“Every Night When the Sun Goes Down”) is done as a blues piece here, and it really works. The honest, heartfelt performances on this album are evocative of a simpler time, and they will draw you in to a varied and colorful musical space.

As for the sound, Cisco has hit a home run with their thoughtfully remastered LP, pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Robert Pincus of Cisco was kind enough to lend me both the original Vanguard Stereolab black-and-silver pressing, and a Vanguard gold-label reissue. Compared to either of the Vanguard pressings, the Cisco remastered version sounds much more natural, and it brings you much closer to the experience of real voices and instruments performing in a real space. You can hear into the recording and catch the nuances of intonation and phrasing, giving you the feeling that you're hearing more of the intent of the performers. Sylvia's autoharp (e.g., on "Katy Dear”) sounds much more like an autoharp heard live. I know, because one of my coworkers is one of the premiere autoharpists in the country, and I have heard him perform several times. By comparison, the originals sound too bright, peaky and processed. And yes, I made careful VTA adjustments to account for the different record thicknesses. (The LPs were auditioned on my VPI TNT with a Benz Ruby cartridge in a JMW Memorial arm, with a fantastic prototype Black Diamond Racing record clamp and a Hovland tonearm cable. This rig rests on a prototype mechanically floating isolation platform from Minus K Technology, of a type normally used for atomic force microscopes.)

Cisco has been doing a great job of branching out and selecting outstanding folk and blues albums to reissue. And in every case, Cisco's physical reproduction of the originals is very professional; the original record jacket art and record label here are expertly produced.

More great folk music can be found in Cisco's very recent remastered reissues of Joan Baez in Concert (a great former T.A.S. list LP) and Travelling On with The Weavers , both from the Vanguard catalog. I just finished listening to these and loved them both, of which more anon.

Please support Cisco by buying Four Strong Winds. This release is very highly recommended, and a company that is producing products such as this in 2004 deserves your enthusiastic support. They most definitely have mine. All I can say once again is, keep up the great work, Robert! It's highly appreciated by many, many people. (And if you're too young to have heard much of this kind of music but are curious, this album is a great introduction. Don't own a turntable? There are a lot of choices now that don't cost an arm and a leg, the MMF-2 and MMF-5 from Music Hall being excellent examples. Buy yourself a new or used table, and find out why vinyl still rules.)

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Sound 9/10

Performance 10/10

Music 10/10