To tie in with a series of European dates Clubhouse Records have released Tyson’s two US EPs (High on Lonesome and Cheater’s Wine) on a single disc which gives us 13 tracks of modern day country music, the real thing, inspired by the past but not a slave to it. The sticker on the CD front says “Old School sad-bastard country” a quote from Rolling Stone, who have picked Tyson as a name to watch. Listening to these eleven tracks you can easily see why. The Texas native lives in Nashville where he has become part of the musical community that exists well outside the influence of mainstream Music Row and country radio dictated grooming.
These self-written songs are tales of heartbreak and hesitation, sung with a voice that is whiskey stained and full of bar stool reminisces and neon-lit melancholy. Tyson could be taken as an approximation of how Justin Townes Earle might have gone after his debut EP if he hadn’t disliked the way that country was being perceived back them (and now). Cale Tyson from the opening song Honky Tonk Moan signals his allegiance with the semi-yodel of his lonesome voice. He produced both EPs and gathered a set of like-minded players around him. Crucial to that sound is pedal steel guitarist Brett Resnick who features on both sets of tracks. Guitarists Kenny Vaughan and Robert Ellis feature on High on Lonesome and Cheater’s Wine respectively. The rest of the skilled team included bassist Mark Rinne and drummer John McTigue and others well suited to their role of supporting players.
There are no turbo-charged neo hair-metal bro country workouts here. The music is quietly and effectively focused behind Tyson’s true vocal delivery. In that department he receives some sterling back up and harmony work on the EPs from Heidi Feek and Carolyn Martin, to name but two. There is so much that is good that it is hard to pick out specific tracks but Old Time Blues is exceptional and could be taken as a raison d’être. His sense of self deprecation, both real and imagined, is there for all to hear in Fool of the Year, a subject that has been a classic part of songwriting in the past, but given another memorable outing here. Tyson’s production serves the music well by giving each song a sense of the heritage classic country storytelling, but also looking to give the music it’s sense of its own time and place, something that is inherent in the ground breaking work of artists like Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakam.
Cale Tyson is not the only one doing this kind of music, but he is very much at the forefront of those artists who have little to do with what currently resides at the top of the country music charts. Rather he joins a core of artists who strive for an integrity that ingrains their music and makes it something that can be returned to without any loss of credibility in the future. In that light it is both timeless and of it’s time. This is perfect musical foil for the excesses of many of those aforementioned soulless sales pitches. Cale Tyson is a major talent on a minor road.