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Soul of the January Hills
Inspired by his location – the 2008 Jaroslaw Festival in southeastern Poland, where he taught a week-long Sacred Harp school climaxed by an unamplified solo concert broadcast by Poland’s national radio from a candlelit Baroque church – and the magic of his surroundings, Tim Eriksen took a digital recorder into a tower on a wall surrounding Jaroslaw’s Benedictine Abbey, sang 14 traditional American songs in one take with no accompaniment at all, and walked out about an hour later with the January Hills recordings.
The CD encompasses a new arrangement of the familiar “Amazing Grace,” as well as several other hymns (“Son of God,” “Wrestling Jacob”), dark accounts of incest and murder (“Queen Jane,” “Two Babes”), the pleasures and pain of love (“Lass of Glenshee,” “A Soldier Traveling from the North,” and “John Randolph,” probably the oldest song here, dating back to the 15th Century), and even optimism in harsh times (“Hope,” “Better Days Coming”). Perhaps most timeless and, sadly, most relevant is Tim’s a cappella rendition of “I Wish the Wars Were All Over,” an original based on an 18th Century ballad.
With these 14 songs for voice alone, says Eriksen, “I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Not really. I’m not looking for a battle, but it would be nice if this record was taken as a friendly challenge to get people into hardcore singing, especially the old ballads and hymns and stuff.” Eschewing instrumental accompaniment is a courageous move for a musician ripe for an easy-to-swallow Americana cash-in record with big-name sidemen and easygoing material, but the stark intensity of Eriksen’s passionate, unvarnished baritone voice reflects his conviction that unamplified, unaccompanied ballad singing “can be incredibly beautiful, powerful stuff.”