Monday, September 19, 2011

Tim Eriksen in Montreal and Ottawa this weekend

Tim Eriksen, one of the premiere interpreters of traditional balladry in the world today, will be in Montreal and Ottawa this weekend. These events are not to be missed by anyone interested in traditional folk music.

There are two events in Montreal on Saturday, September 24.

Tim will be doing a shape-note singing workshop at 3:00 pm at 550 Beaumont #203 and an evening concert launching the 2011-2012 Wintergreen Concert Series at 8:00 pm at Petit Campus (57 Prince Arthur East). Contact Hello Darlin’ Productions at 514-524-9225 for tickets or info for either event.

In the Ottawa area, Tim is doing a Sunday afternoon concert, September 25, 2:00 pm, at the Harry Craig Community Hall (6045 Prince of Wales Drive, North Gower). For information, contact Ann Downey at

Here are my reviews of two of Tim’s albums from Sing Out! Magazine.

Tim Eriksen
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Tim Eriksen started out playing punk rock with Cordelia’s Dad, a band that evolved into mesmerizing purveyors of hardcore, uncompromising traditional music.  On this equally mesmerizing solo effort, recorded in just five hours, Eriksen offers purist interpretations of traditional songs and tunes as well as well as several songs of his own making that fit seamlessly with the traditional songs.  If not for the liner notes, I would be hard pressed to tell which are the traditional songs and which are his.  Eriksen sings a cappella on some songs while on others he variously accompanies himself on guitar, fiddle and fretless banjo.  Two pieces, “Last Chance,” frailed on the banjo, and a medley of “Mobile Serenade Polka/Shep Jones Hornpipe,” neatly picked on the guitar, are instrumentals.

One of Eriksen’s most powerful original songs is “I Wish the Wars Were All Over,” an anti-war song that he constructed using lyrical fragments from a variety of traditional songs.  Singing from the perspective of a young woman whose lover is off fighting, Eriksen quietly purveys the woman’s devastating uncertainty over whether her man will survive.  Of the traditional songs, highlights include “Brown Girl,” a long version of “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender” that he learned from a tape of Appalachian ballad singer Frank Proffitt, and an intense, a cappella performance of the even longer “Village Churchyard” garnered from the singing of Roscoe Holcomb.

Eriksen presents this music with absolutely no commercial considerations or compromises in making it palatable for an audience.  The only choice he seems to give a listener is to pay absolute attention or to ignore him and completely tune out.  I choose the former.
Soul of the January Hills
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On a summer day late in the last century, I was at a folk festival listening to Cordelia’s Dad, a band that came out of the punk scene performing traditional folk songs. Sitting with me was a noted scholar and singer of traditional songs – someone who would generally have little truck with any approach to folk music that strays from a traditional approach. I remember him telling me that he was as excited hearing Cordelia’s Dad as anyone he’d encountered in decades. The band’s lead singer was Tim Eriksen, who in the years since, has become even more steeped in traditional folk songs and in developing a compelling and intense approach to their performance.

Soul of the January Hills is a mesmerizing set of 14 songs, all sung a cappella, that Eriksen recorded in one take, in one hour-long session, sitting (or perhaps standing) by himself in a church in Poland. He turned on his digital recorder, sang the songs once, in order, turned off the recorder and had this album.

Among the traditional ballads that Eriksen sings are “Queen Jane,” “Two Babes,” “Lass of Glenshee” and “Drowsy Sleeper.” Listening, one can’t help but be caught up in the tales of lust and murder n the songs’ stories. Somewhat of a specialist in shape note singing, he also sings such hymns as “Amazing Grace,” “Son of God” and “Wrestling Jacob.”

Perhaps the most powerful song is “I Wish the Wars Were All Over,” a song that he compiled from fragments drawn from a variety of traditional songs. He sings it from the perspective of a woman whose love is away at war. Eriksen has recorded “I Wish the Wars Were All Over” before, but this a cappella rendition is even more convincing than his earlier version.

--Mike Regenstreif

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