Tim Eriksen: Solo Soul

Soul of the January Hills
Appleseed Recordings 1120

At the height of the folk revival there were numerous singers scouring the hills and dusty songsters in search of old ballads. Records were filled with tales of lust, adultery, unrequited love, and blood-curdling tragedy, and were populated with knights, travelers, milk-white steeds, homesick sailors, and imperiled maidens. Because they were story songs, voice and lyrics took center stage. Somewhere along the way these things gave way to slick arranging, studio production, and clever packaging. Tim Eriksen’s latest CD is a throwback—fourteen a cappella songs, many in minor keys, that resurrect the days of folk balladry and mountain gospel. His elides, dry tones, and plaintive intonations are evocative of a younger Ralph Stanley—without the band. Eriksen’s voice is a powerful instrument in its own right, though listeners weaned on thick instrumentation may find it a tough slog at first. Eriksen’s curveball take on standards such as “Amazing Grace” might also shock initially. Stick with this record until the wonderment of the narratives and the ability of the human voice to cut to the emotional quick takes hold. Could Hollywood make a better story than ”Queen Jane?” Could Nashville studio tricks make “I Wish the Wars Were All Over” more powerful? Nope!

Those living within driving distance of Albany can catch Tim Eriksen at the Old Songs festival this summer on June 26-27. If you’ve never been to Old Songs you’re missing out on both wonderful music and a nostalgia trip worth taking. As its name suggests, slickness takes a back seat at Old Songs. You get to see just how good performers are when there’s not a lot of technology around. I suspect that Eriksen will be leading sacred harp singing in the sheep barn at some point in the weekend—this is an experience not to be missed. More grace pours from that old shed than you’ll ever hear in church. The final schedule is still in progress, but check out other details here.

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