Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Tim Eriksen – Soul of the January Hills

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 Æ.

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June 18, 2010 Posted by | folk music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gorgeous Balkan and Appalachian Vocal Harmonies from Æ

Plaintive, austere, otherworldly and often hauntingly beautiful, this isn’t your typical a cappella album. Imaginative Brooklyn vocal duo Æ’s claim to fame is that they’re equally at home with earthy Balkan folk music as they are with Americana. The most innovative cuts here interpolate Applachian and Balkan themes, revealing the strange yet familiar commonalities in two styles that seemingly could not be more dissimilar. As the two voices interweave, one obvious comparison is Mariana Sadovska’s rearrangements of rustic Carpathian songs; other times, they evoke popular Brooklyn buzz band Black Sea Hotel. The two women were seemingly born to blend voices together – they could be sisters. Eva Salina Primack is highly sought after as a lead singer throughout the Balkan music world; Aurelia Shrenker, her onetime bandmate in the American folk group the Sirene Trio, is equally renowned as a performer and interpreter of Georgian ballads. Primack’s voice is a little more glimmering and gregarious, Shrenker’s somewhat more wary and haunting. But when the two switch roles, it’s effortless and at that point it’s impossible to keep track of who’s singing what. Their voices are augmented tersely and rustically with Primack’s accordion and Shrenker’s panduri, along with some striking violin by Jesse Kotansky on two tracks.

The first of the interpolations has Shrenker doing a potently effective slide up from her lower register. The second is hypnotic and eerie, drone versus melody, accordion looming ominously in the background; the last one contrasts Primack’s vivid Appalachian twang against Shrenker’s stately, low Georgian tones. Shrenker evokes Linda Thompson, apprehensive yet completely in command on a couple of stark Georgian folk songs, while Primack’s longing intensity on a Ukrainian number is goosebump-inducing. The Americana numbers here aren’t exactly yuppie-friendly singalongs: Wind and Rain (which many of you know) is a gleeful murder ballad with a decomposing corpse as its centerpiece, while Across the Blue Mountains documents an averted seduction, in fact maybe an averted kidnapping. There’s also a rapt, hypnotic, hymnlike Corsican song, several vividly bucolic mountain ballads from Albania and Greece and a klezmer tune done so affectingly by Primack, right down to the vocalese on the chorus, that there’s no need for a band behind her. Which could be said for everything else on the album. Æ play Banjo Jim’s on Feb 13 and Feb 14 at the Jalopy.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments