I was lured to the East coast this week with the promise of fall color and experienced not only incredibly vibrant scenery out of doors but also colorful art happenings inside, including one of the best concerts I’ve heard in a long time.
The vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tim Eriksen knocked me sideways at the sweetly shabby Next Stage Arts performance space in Putney, Vermont, where he gave the kind of performance that makes the hairs on one’s lower back prickle.
Eriksen’s roots lie firmly in the American folk tradition. His voice, which is nasal in quality without sounding pinched, is as supple as old leather and as strong as bathtub moonshine. And he can handle himself virtuostically on the banjo, guitar, fiddle, jew’s harp and most likely anything else that exists on this earth that can be strummed, blown, bowed or plucked.
But Eriksen isn’t your typical folk balladeer. He looks more like a pirate rocker with his black biker boots and jeans, silver jewelry and bald pate. And his musical palate is as broad as it is deep.
I’m a fan of Eriksen’s new album, Josh Billings Voyage, which comes out tomorrow and marries his background in American folk music such as New England hymns, shape note tunes and sea shanties with the musics from other parts of the globe like India, Zanzibar and Mexico.
Josh Billings Voyage is a whimsical effort: The songs speak of quotidian life in “Pumpkintown,” an imaginary village in Massachusetts. The flavor of the album is resoundingly American, but there’s always a twinge of something else playing at the edges of the music to remind us that the world is both a big and small place.
For example, one of the most playful songs on Josh Billings Voyage, “The Mice,” about the singer’s stint living in a mouse-infested eighteenth century house in New Hampshire, features some beautiful Indian microtonal voice effects.
I’ve enjoyed listening to the CD for the last few weeks. But experiencing some of the songs live is an entirely transformative experience. Together with percussionist Peter Irvine (introduced to us by Eriksen as his “friend and lawyer”) Eriksen creates a dense, multi-textured sonic landscape. The effect is much richer than appears possible coming from the hands and mouths of just two guys standing on a small Vermont stage.