Ian Tyson is the biggest star of the "Cowboy Renaissance," the revival of cowboy poetry and cowboy songs spurred by the success of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev.

Tyson's songs, though, have neither the larger-than-life heroism of Hollywood cowboy singers such as the Sons of the Pioneers and Gene Autry nor the nitty-gritty realism of authentic cowboy singers such as Cisco Houston and Harry McClintock.

Instead Tyson takes a New Age approach to the rural West, offering melodies that soothe rather than stimulate and lyrics that cast a rosy, fuzzy glow instead of bringing the hard life on the range into focus.

"Lost Herd" is Tyson's first album of new songs in five years, and it's the weakest effort of his career. The singer, who was once half of the great folk duo Ian & Sylvia, is a real-life rancher in Alberta, but he romanticizes his chosen life shamelessly.

The arrangements have more in common with John Tesh's melodramatic piano pieces than campfire guitar strumming. Tyson emphasizes wistful songs of lost love that verge on self-pity, as he compares a departed woman to a "Lost Herd" in a canyon, to golden cottonwood leaves falling amid "Brahmas and Mustangs," or to a postcard from the "Blue Mountains of Mexico."

Appearing Friday at the Rams Head Tavern and Saturday at the Birchmere.

To hear a free Sound Bite from Ian Tyson, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8129. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)