Just what it says: Banjo, Fiddle and Voice- stripped down solo music by Tim Eriksen with minimal percussion by Peter Irvine. From refreshing takes on very familiar songs to rare gems you won't find anywhere else- love songs, shape-note hymns, banjo tunes, fiddle tunes.
Solitude in the Grove
The Way to Canaan
Yew Pine Mountain
Going Across the Sea
The Golden Harp
Tim Eriksen: Banjo, Fiddle and Voice
Peter Irvine: drum, tambourine
Recorded by Garrett Sawyer, Northfire Recording Studios
Mastered by Jeff Lipton, Peerless Mastering
Assistant Mastering Engineer: Maria Rice
Design by Caleb Wetmore
Lost Tunes, Burning Spirit, and Dark Roots: Passion and Reserve Entwine on Hardcore Balladeer Tim Eriksen’s Banjo, Fiddle and Voice
Years ago, singer, musician, and scholar Tim Eriksen pulled a 19th-century hymnal out of the trash. He’d always been fascinated with the scraps of history he’d found growing up: the arrowheads or centuries-old bottles washed up on the beach, the hints of long-gone people’s experience lingering in graveyards and forests.
That hymnal—and other junk shop discoveries—quietly urged him to invigorate old tunes, the overplayed songs and the lost melodies of the rural American East. In Eriksen’s able imagination, they become a landscape of passion, loss, and banked fire. They flowed freely as Eriksen recorded Banjo, Fiddle and Voice, an album of accidental discoveries and unexpected reimaginings of America’s forgotten roots.
Using his grandfather’s violin, delicate fretless banjo, a beast of a fretted banjo, and his clarion-call voice, Eriksen shows that the past is not past, but living and breathing hard. He takes on well-worn classics (“Tom Dooley”), shape-note songs (“The Golden Harp”), and hymns like “Amazing Grace,” revealing their deep, intimate stories with a dark intensity and unflagging curiosity.
“I get a kick out of the surprise, out of taking ‘Yankee Doodle’ and making it into a meditation,” Eriksen explains. “There’s a challenge in finding old discarded bits, the old songs, and, through random or providential encounters, dusting them off, putting the pieces together, and revealing their beauty.”
A stacked stone wall in the remote woods. Lost objects tossed up on a cold beach. These moments and places resonate in Eriksen’s purposefully spare yet utterly committed songs and tunes. His approach is deeply rooted in his life-long fascination with the places and sounds of New England, which has musical traditions that differ from more Southern roots of most Americana (as heard in New England ballads like “Yarrow,” a love song sung in rural Vermont).
“There’s a dry, more reserved storytelling style in the older Yankee singers that I love,” reflects Eriksen, who focuses most of his folk music-related research and exploration on his native region. “That straightforwardness opens up a space where people can interact more deeply with the music. You’re not being told how to feel. You simply hear the words, as they are really happening.”
This contained intensity is echoed in Banjo, Fiddle and Voice’s limited instrumental palette—a family heirloom fiddle; a handcrafted fretless banjo with a light, nimble sound; and a booming beater Eriksen has humorously dubbed his “big, dumb banjo;” as well as subtle percussion touches by versatile long-time collaborator Peter Irvine. The simple instrumentation belies Eriksen’s complex feel for the interlocking melody and rhythm that makes American tunes tick (as on the sprightly “Yew Pine Mountain”).
Eriksen’s subtle sense for musical possibilities springs from his open musical aesthetic, which encompasses everything from grindcore to Bosnian pop songs. With a career that has spanned decades and leaped from CBGB to academia, from major folk festivals to feature films (most notably contributing to the soundtrack for Cold Mountain), Eriksen is one of the only performers to share the stage with Kurt Cobain and with Doc Watson.
“I gravitated towards things I grew up with, like hymns and punk, and to other things that somehow seemed to me to be full of the same vibrancy and intensity,” notes Eriksen. “I never saw it as strange that I was listening to avant-garde classical music and traditional American folk, and playing punk rock, and studying South Indian classical music. They always seemed to go together to me.”
“Oh Death” hints at these connections, while still falling utterly within tradition, as Eriksen’s gritty fiddling buoys gripping, sinuous vocals. The ties that bind American roots music to other sounds—to rock and European art music, say—are old as the hills: In the camp revivals of the early 19th century, a syncretic music evolved, a largely forgotten ancestor of many American musical genres.
“During the Second Great Awakening, people from all sorts of backgrounds—Irish, Native American, African—met and had these experiences in the wilderness with a new kind of American music,” Eriksen recounts. “The camp meeting songs are the hidden grandparents of just about everything we listen to right now.” Eriksen evokes and tweaks that sound on tracks like “The Golden Harp,” an early shape-note hymn with a beat that reminded Eriksen of the pounding pulse of good banjo tunes.
He also brings to light lost, but deeply rooted sides to familiar songs. Eriksen’s soaring, earthy “Amazing Grace” draws on an alternate melody for the well-known text he found in a songbook at a Massachusetts junk shop. “That text has had many different tunes over its life,” says Eriksen. “This tune was used in the Northeast, before the more familiar version became a gospel and folk standard. The book where I found it belonged to Amelia Clark, the daughter of a man who led singing at a prominent church in Northampton. An 1855 newspaper article called Clark’s father an old-school singer. They had marked it as one of their favorites.”
Accidental discovery lies at the heart of Banjo, Fiddle and Voice. “I made this record by mistake,” Eriksen laughs. “I was in the studio working on another project, and when things weren’t going the way I wanted, I’d try the banjo or play the fiddle. I played what I felt like at the moment, songs that I’d known for years that just happened to come to mind.” And Eriksen happened upon a stark, sparkling set of songs, unsettling yet deeply rooted.
Tristra Newyear, Rock Paper Scissors, Inc.
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Tim Eriksen Music- All Rights Reserved.