"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"
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.