Review Archive

‘Josh Billings Voyage’ - Tim Eriksen

(June 29, 2012)

There’s an enticement in Tim Eriksen’s voice – one of the most iconic in folk music – that pulls you into his songs. That wavering, haunting quality gives powerful expression to every lyric. On Josh Billings Voyage’ Tim Eriksen assembles a melange of songs from his travels and weaves them into a tale of a fictional village - one man’s view to encapsulates their sources into the essence of New Josh Billings VoyageEngland.

There’s a richness of narrative, history and location that floods through these songs, as does inspired and sometimes startling instrumentation. Eriksen has the ability to employ different instruments, or the familiar in strange ways, to create unique sounds. There’s the bajo sexton, a 12 string guitar with strings in 6 double courses familiar in northern Mexico and south Texas, bowed glockenspiels and banjos, and bamboo fifes.

‘Josh Billings Voyage’ opens with faint lapping water effects and slides into the lingering ‘Every Day is Three’ complete with those bowed instruments – and that unforgettable voice. A fine rendition of ‘The Bonny Bay of Biscay’ gets the Eriksen touch, as does the Irish song ‘Mountains of Pomeroy’, while the traditional murder ballad ‘How Come That Blood’ relishes in the addition of a bamboo fife.

Eriksen positions the impetus for ‘Josh Billings Voyage’ by stating: “I’ve been fascinated by the presence of the world in every place, and the presence of every place in the world. The influence of travel and contact on music in small places - when people talk about traditional music or folk songs, they often imply isolation. But even in the smallest places, travel has more to do with how music develops than isolation does. By making this sideways, half-told story, I can get at a number of things by implication that takes me hours to say in complete sentences.”

We’re also treated to ‘Hindoo Air’ - allegedly discovered by a missionary who claimed to have overheard it in South India - it may be more familiar to anyone that ever sat around a campfire singing ‘There is a Happy Land’. Other instrumentals (some accompanied by a lilting vocal chant) include ‘Roslin Castle’ and ‘The Lover’s Mistake’. And on the subject of familiar, there’s an exquisitely sorrowful version of ‘A Thousand Times Adieu’ borrowed from the harmony-singing Copper Family tradition. One listen to ‘Gabriel’s Trumpet’ shows the influence of West African roots, gorgeous gospel choirs and stately stoicism in the face of hardship overlaid with cutting banjo – pure delight.

This is an album of connections - historical associations, linked narratives, interwoven influences and conjoined places - all related through one man. Tim Eriksen remains steadfastly unafraid to moprh his folk music into whatever sounds wonderful, as evidenced by his treatment of ‘Old Lang Syne’, which he renders into the staggering guitar ripped, pulsating ‘Song of the Old Folks’.  

I recommend that you get a copy of ‘Josh Billings Voyage’ when it comes out in October 2012 – you’ll love it. To find out more go here: www.rockpaperscissors

Reviewer: Tim Carroll

Click here to return to the Review Archive page