Quite a claim, I know. If you're not on to Ian Tyson, such an assertion will sound preposterous. If you know his music, it might seem at least plausible. But it's the truth, at least to this man's ears. What makes it so great? First of all, the pathos. There's a whole world of sorrow summed up in three-plus minutes of musical mastery. Besides being the greatest, this is probably the saddest song ever written. You can feel these poor women's sorrow as they've once again been done in by a heartless and faithless man. Second, the musical setting perfectly matches the mood of the song. Tyson is a genius at getting just the right instrumentation and arrangement to complement his lyric. Third, there's a matter of tone. No one has an ear for the North American West like Tyson's. The California mid-coast setting is absolutely perfect for the sentiments conveyed. If you've ever been to Cuyama, you know what I mean.
"Big Horns" is almost as great. The sense of loss here is as profound as in "Heartaches." A choice between them probably comes down to what one is most familiar with.
"Rodeo Road" gives me chills every time I hear it. I'm not a cowboy, but I've had my obsessions about things to the detriment of those near to me. Tyson manages to perfectly capture this sad state of affairs, but even more amazingly wraps things up with a genuine redemptive move. Quite an accomplishment.
"M. C. Horses" evokes the changing West as well as anything out there. "Old House" is a bit of exotica Tyson likes to include in most of his outings. "Alcohol in the Bloodstream" has its own kind of sadness, despite the cheerful veneer. "Horsethief Moon" intriguingly foreshadows "Big Horns" in a lighthearted way, making the latter all the more ominous. The title cut, although not among Tyson's absolute top-drawer tunes, does effectively bring out the joy a hard rain can bring to the parched western plains.
I could go on and on. There's not a weak cut in the bunch. I've just hit on the high points. A must-have for any Tyson fan, and a great introduction to the man and his music for anyone not yet under the spell of this true American troubadour.