Tim Eriksen: “Later I’ll tell you about how playing eighteenth-century American sacred music for a Canadian hockey team got me nominated for a Grammy as a player of Afro-Cuban jazz”   Leave a comment

Eriksen-tree

The subject line is a quote from Tim Eriksen, whom I discovered this past fall at Passim and saw again last night at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Mass.; it gives a sense of Eriksen’s eclectic approach as well as his charismatic energy and sense of humor.  He’s a not-quite-former punk rocker who mostly does traditional and trad-style Americana in his very own style, with a stunning voice plus guitar, fiddle, and banjo–the latter occasionally bowed rather than picked.  Oh yes, and in his real life–or should that be spare time?–he teaches ethnomusicology at a Massachusetts college and conducts shape-note workshops and conferences.  The other two members of his current group, Zoe Darrow on fiddle and Peter Irvine on assorted percussion, provide straight lines for Eriksen when they’re not demonstrating their own outstanding musical skills.

People who have been around this part of the folk map for a while may also know him from the ’90s folk-rock band “Cordelia’s Dad.”  That style is less in evidence these days, though not completely gone.  Most of the current set list is in a very traditional style.  Some songs really are from nineteenth-century New England, done Eriksen’s way; more of them are lyrics he set to original music or vice versa, or mashups of traditional tropes or….you name it.  Often I can’t tell which is which, and he is Not a Reliable Informant–not, I’m sure, for lack of knowledge, but because, well, that’s all part of the fun.  The shtick also includes anecdotes and commentary, not always to the point of the songs–very often something starts out as an introduction and goes to unexpected places, or just wanders off into its own space and gets dropped so that a song can start–but always entertaining.  In the current mix, many stories have to do with Pumpkintown, “a fictional town in Western Massachuetts, where I learned the songs.”  Sometimes there are a cappella renditions of material identified as traditional Macedonian songs learned from his family–“and I can’t translate, but I can give you the sense of it, because Macedonian sounds sort of like Serbian, which I speak badly.”  Sometimes there’s overtone singing–think Tuvan throat singers, or jew’s-harp sound created with voice alone.  Occasionally the songs are very modern; my favorite of those is about the mice that infested his house (that was the house with the serial killer in the attic), accompanied by interesting dissonances from Darrow fiddling with what appeared to be one or two strands of horsehair as a bow, and Irvine using a standard bow but on his xylophone.   Irvine didn’t play the cymbals with his keys this time, but I’ve seen him do that in the past; mostly, last night, it was bodhran, or a small percussion instrument unfamiliar to me that looks sort of like a tambourine made out of duct tape but has a wonderful deeper sound, and occasionally it was a more standard acoustic drum set.   The dissonant stuff is less to my taste, but anything the Trio de Pumpkintown does makes my ears happy.

Posted 27 April 2013 by Folk Crossing in Music: All

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