Josh Billings Voyage or, Cosmopolite on the Cotton Road
Like the quiet disturbance of mice in an old house, far-flung connections are everywhere, even in the remotest village—and have subtly changed the nature of music. For singer, composer, and thoughtful listener to tradition, Tim Eriksen, these bits and pieces are not curiosities, but part of a net of lived experience that defies time and geographic distance, that unites the hills of Western Massachusetts with the shores of Madras and Zanzibar.
On Josh Billings Voyage (release: October 23, 2012), Eriksen transforms global fragments into a tale of an imaginary town, told with a keen emotional edge. The melody from the subcontinent now sung at the back of the school bus (“Hindoo Air”), the hit penned by 18th-century Native American college buddies (“When Shall We All Meet Again”), the peculiar scratchings in the margins of old books all serve to tell a story that has fascinated Eriksen since childhood: how the past and what seems “elsewhere” resonate here, right now, in this small place.
“I’ve been fascinated by the presence of the world in every place, and the presence of every place in the world. The influence of travel and contact on music in small places,” Eriksen explains. “When people talk about traditional music or folk songs, they often imply isolation. But even in the smallest places, travel has more to do with how music develops than isolation does. By making this sideways, half-told story, I can get at a number of things by implication, that take me hours to say in complete sentences.”
To tell this story, the story of the New England village of Pumpkintown, Eriksen draws subtly on decades of intensive study of the South Indian veena and its repertoire, on years of wrangling with the difficult but rewarding bajo sexto, and on a lifetime of singing deeply rooted, highly emotional traditional ballads. In Pumpkintown, young men set out on journeys over the sea, people live and love and die and dance, and the graveyard and hills mark time.
“It struck me early on that ‘Yankee’ culture has always been deeply multicultural, in ways that may not be as obvious as the kinds of hyphenated multiculturalism that is most often talked about,” Eriksen reflects. “It's the kind of multiculturalism that's invisible if you don’t recognize the distinctions or sources of influence.”
Tristra Newyear Yaeger, Rock Paper Scissors, Inc.