Tim Eriksen - Soul of the January Hills
Inspired by his location – the 2008 Jaroslaw Festival in southeastern Poland, where he taught a week-long Sacred Harp school climaxed by an unamplified solo concert broadcast by Poland’s national radio from a candlelit Baroque church – and the magic of his surroundings, Tim Eriksen took a digital recorder into a tower on a wall surrounding Jaroslaw’s Benedictine Abbey, sang 14 traditional American songs in one take with no accompaniment at all, and walked out about an hour later with the January Hills recordings.
The CD encompasses a new arrangement of the familiar “Amazing Grace,” as well as several other hymns (“Son of God,” “Wrestling Jacob”), dark accounts of incest and murder (“Queen Jane,” “Two Babes”), the pleasures and pain of love (“Lass of Glenshee,” “A Soldier Traveling from the North,” and “John Randolph,” probably the oldest song here, dating back to the 15th Century), and even optimism in harsh times (“Hope,” “Better Days Coming”). Perhaps most timeless and, sadly, most relevant is Tim’s a cappella rendition of “I Wish the Wars Were All Over,” an original based on an 18th Century ballad.
With these 14 songs for voice alone, says Eriksen, “I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Not really. I’m not looking for a battle, but it would be nice if this record was taken as a friendly challenge to get people into hardcore singing, especially the old ballads and hymns and stuff.” Eschewing instrumental accompaniment is a courageous move for a musician ripe for an easy-to-swallow Americana cash-in record with big-name sidemen and easygoing material, but the stark intensity of Eriksen’s passionate, unvarnished baritone voice reflects his conviction that unamplified, unaccompanied ballad singing “can be incredibly beautiful, powerful stuff.”
"A stunning and magical record that takes us right back to the very roots "
This is a remarkable recording. I would stand it over and against just about everything that is wrong with modern music – it stands opposite and against over-production, self-indulgent lyrics, over-indulgence in general. It is simple and unadorned; above all it communicates and should be study material for every singer-songwriter around. It does this by going right back to the most fundamental and basic of all instruments – the human voice. Tim Eriksen gives us 14 songs for voice alone and one of these in particular is set to be an absolute classic. Tim Eriksen was a new name to me when I received this album for review. Researching him I found a person with a musical pedigree and a track record that is second to none. He is a most accomplished musician on guitar, banjo and fiddle and I recommend readers to research him on-line. Regarding this album Tim is quoted as saying rhetorically: "I'm throwing down the gauntlet? Not really. I'm not looking for a battle, but it would be nice if this record was taken as a friendly challenge to get people into hardcore singing, especially the old ballads and hymns and stuff." He has succeeded in producing an album that takes us right back to the roots and is recorded in the most basic way. Inspired by his location at the Jaroslaw Festival in south eastern Poland he took a digital recorder into a tower on the walls surrounding Jaroslaw's Benedictine Abbey and recorded the fourteen songs on this album. The result is beautifully natural sounding recording that retains the ambient sound of the surroundings. The record is best listened to one, two or three songs at a time; listen and hear the story that each song communicates and you will be transported. You will hear a new arrangement of the great John Newton hymn – Amazing Grace. If you look up John Newton's story you may fancy that this rendition captures some of the magic of the birth of that song. There are other hymns Son of God, Wrestling Jacob; songs of incest and murder Queen Jane; songs of love A Soldier Travelling From the North; songs of hope through harsh days Better Days Coming and much more beside. The crown jewel of the album is a song that already appears to be becoming a standard; it is an original based upon an 18th century ballad – I Wish the Wars Were All Over. It speaks so much of human suffering and the pain of war, it speaks to us today and it will speak to us tomorrow. It is especially powerful considering where it was recorded – in a country that suffered so much, especially in the mid-twentieth century. The peak performance of an exceptional album by an exceptional performer. Here at last we have something that truly communicates.
- Maverick, UK
'This is outstanding, powerful, exhilarating, controlled singing in anybody's book" - fROOTS, UK "a powerful, compelling and incredibly personal album that will raise goose bumps all over your body" -
– Midwest Record
Intense, brooding, uncompromising, scary, intimate, heartfelt, blissful, immediate, savage, untarnished, subtle, and magnificent; just a handful of words to describe Eriksen's most compelling album to date. Recorded in a single unedited take within a tower on a wall surrounding a Benedictine Abbey in Poland, he describes these unaccompanied songs as "a friendly challenge to get people into hardcore singing, especially the old ballads and hymns".
Yet this is no new venture for Eriksen as his previous solo albums and his work with Cordelia's Dad, not to mention his long association with Sacred Harp singing, have featured his unaccompanied voice. And in keeping with the shape-note style, he is not interested in the perfect rendition. Being in tune, as he once said, is "merely a courtesy to the person next to you". So it is with this ethos that his voice erupts.
'I Wish The Wars Were All Over' and 'Lass Of Glenshee', familiar from 2001's Tim Eriksen, are joined by an array of tragic ballads and hymns such as the gruesome "Son Of God" and the forlorn "Drowsy Sleeper", though the Rebecca Jones version, with its sweeter ending for the tale's lovers, would have lightened the mood of this essential if somewhat daunting listen.
-Simon Rowland, R2 - Rock'n'Reel Magazine, UK
“. . . hardcore Americana at its most elemental.” – Brattleboro, VT., Reformer
"Haunting"– Roanoke Times
"strips his vocal gifts down to their barest essence"– Steve Kilbride, Atlanta Journal-Constituion "Eriksen's voice is a powerful instrument in its own right"– Valley Advocate “Tim Eriksen wields astonishing power, with a voice full of deep, emotive qualities, a well-worn character and effortless fluidity. . . . his singing has an immediacy that grabs listeners and compels them to share in the moment of performance.”– Parrish Ellis, Mountain Xpress, Asheville, NC “It's heaven"– Joan Crump, English Dance & Song, UK "Say what you like about Tim Eriksen, you can't deny he's the sexiest bald man in folk. Joe Broughton, John McCusker – eat your hearts out, boys! The shaved dome, of course, is a sign that he's not a man who is satisfied with a job half done. In his solo work and with his rarely-sighted band Cordelia's Dad he has approached traditional-styled singing with a savage relish that demands total submission by the listener – or total rejection. He's not a "mm, quite like him..." sort of a guy.
So it comes as no surprise, somehow, that his latest CD is composed entirely of unaccompanied solo songs, recorded back to back in a single session in a Benedictine Abbey in Jaroslaw, Poland. In a tower on the perimeter wall, to be exact. It took him an hour. You may struggle to recall the last time an established singer brought out an entirely unaccompanied CD; it is not the done thing these days to leave songs so immodestly underclad. It's plainly an act of provocation – isn't it? "Not really," he insists. "I'm not looking for a battle, but it would be nice if this record was taken as a friendly challenge to get people into hardcore singing, especially the old ballads and hymns and stuff."
Hardcore singing is a fair description of what you'll hear on this album. Eriksen's not interested in a pure tone or a well-mannered delivery. His style is essentially declamatory, occasionally erupting to a bellow that would waken a graveyard. Even his subtleties are hard-edged. What you hear is not a recital of traditional songs gathered up for the listener's delectation and tied together with a tasteful bow. It's more like an archaic private rupture, a man blissfully and totally merging himself with the acoustic space of a medieval tower.
Here is a performer with a passion for the medium of a "live" performance and the immediacy of place. And if that sentence sounds familiar, it's because Gav Davenport used it in his review of Eriksen's Live at Namest CD in the previous issue. Sums it up, really. There's definitely a sense that Tim Eriksen doesn't need an audience to admire his expertise; he's off on his own journey of personal exploration, and we are little more than eavesdroppers. Anything wrong with that? Of course not. He's got the technique, the feel, to make these songs live for us as vividly as they live for him. It's artistry of the most unselfconscious kind. It connects with us because we feel that way too.
Sorry – got all mystical here. Some hard facts: the songs gathered here range over Sacred Harp and tragic balladry, mostly American but with several of them having a recognizable rootstock this side of the Atlantic (John Randolph, for instance, is clearly the US cousin of Lord Randall, and Two Babes being The Cruel Mother in light Appalachian disguise; The Lass of Glenshee wears her origins plainly enough). Eriksen sings them pretty much as they would have been sung in a Kentucky back porch or tin mission, right down to the falsetto leap he appends to the end of alternate lines on A Soldier Traveling from the North. He's really done his fieldwork. There are imperfections – hardly surprising, given that the whole thing was done in a single take. But they're attractive, human flaws, like the wobbly final note on Gallows Tree; he could have fixed it with a simple drop-in, but the authenticity of the performance is left inviolate. ..."
Raymond Greenoaken, Stirrings (UK)
This is definitely not folk music for the faint of heart, but it’s heaven for fans of gothic Americana. Tim Eriksen is one of the world’s more fearless performers: long admired as a singer, steeped in Americana and particularly the eerie northern New England tradition, the multi-instrumentalist is no stranger to singing a-cappella. What’s most impressive is how this album was made: Eriksen sang all fourteen songs solo with neither band nor instrumentation, in a single take, in a tower along the wall of the Benedictine Abbey in Jaroslaw, Poland. His slightly twangy baritone is a potent instrument, but he doesn’t overdo it: this is an album of interpretations, a voice alone setting and maintaining a mood with the lyrics. Yet it also doesn’t offer the impression that he’s holding anything in reserve, waiting til the end when he knows he can empty the tank and blow out his voice if he wants. And what technique! Eriksen is pitch-perfect, working those blue notes with a sorcerer’s subtlety. Tenacity in the face of hardship, mourning and even gruesomeness is the feeling that links most of the often centuries-old songs here: many of them, even a hymn like Son of God, are absolutely macabre. Most of them are in minor keys; and to Eriksen’s credit, he doesn’t sing them all in the same key. The tension lets up a little at the end of the English folk song Gallows Tree, where the prisoner at the end of the rope is finally rescued as the hangman is paid his bribe (for another, absolutely lights-out solo vocal performance of this song, check out the version on Robin O’Brien’s album The Apple in Man).
By contrast, Eriksen gives the narrator of Drowsy Sleeper – dying of food poisoning – a chance to make a forceful last stand. He works segues between several of the songs so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins. A couple of them are traditionally sung by women, but Eriksen pulls them off, notably the ominously gleeful A Soldier Traveling from the North, where the girl begs the traveling soldier not to leave (the implication is that she’s pregnant). Eriksen recasts Amazing Grace as rustic Appalachian folk, and finally lets the clouds dissipate with a rousing, revival camp-style version of Better Days Coming to end the album. This ought to appeal to a wide audience, from fans of groups like the Handsome Family to otherworldly Balkan-Applachian singers.
- Lucid Culture
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