For over a decade, Cordelia's Dad has been on ongoing series of musical experiments. Beginning with an unabashed punk rock fury, evolving into the tender, intricate acoustic songs of Comet and Spine, and returning to bouyant, noisy rock on What It Is, the common threads have been powerful harmony singing, haunting melodies, and insistent rhythm.
Founders Tim Eriksen and Peter Irvine, along with long-time member Cath Oss, have travelled throughout North America and Europe, melding their passionate interpretations of early American hymns, ballads, and fiddle and banjo tunes with their own contemporary pop music sensibilities. Cordelia's Dad taps into deep veins of American experience and musical tradition, forging a sound that is just as surprising as it is familiar.
On "how can I sleep?," their second album, they teamed up with producer and session ace Dave Schramm (Yo La Tengo, The Schramms, The Replacements), and spent way too long polishing this collection of songs of love, remorse, and border patrols.
Originally designating themselves as a folk-noise band, Massachusetts' Cordelia's Dad has traveled from an electric, largely Celtic repertoire into acoustic American traditional music. How Can I Sleep? was originally self-released in 1992 and represents a transition between electric and acoustic for the three member band. Those familiar with their later album Comet will recognize the sound, likely with delight.
"And am I born to die," begins the first selection "Idumea." The track, steeped in Alternative Rock electricity and droning vocal, qualifies as the most irreverent version of a Shape Note hymn ever made. I love it (you can also hear it "Live" on their EP tape Joy Fun Garden ). The original dirgey "San Francisco" is really more electo-punk noise than folk. I love that one too, but you may not. The equally interesting acoustic tracks are more restful: "Harvest Home", set in New England, features simple frets, including a delightful banjo, as accompaniment; traditional ballad enthusiasts will recognize the rather primitive performances of "Sweet William" and "Little Margaret."
I can't decide if Tim Eriksen's vocals are more reminiscent of an American "source singing" or the stuff that comes from 103 Express FM. Hmm. In any case, he's good, and the vocals are solidly "American"...no Across the Atlantic imitations. The simple back-ups are amazing. How can a band alternate so well between brutal electric guitar and thrashing drums, and vivid pastoral banjo?(It's Tim Eriksen on banjo, and Tom King and Peter Irvine on guitar and drums, so I suppose they just switch leads!).
Listening to this intermediate album makes me wonder why Cordelia's Dad per se all but abandoned such an effective rock sound on Comet. The juxtaposition of styles on How Can I Sleep? provides more variety than Comet, but acoustic junkies will prefer the latter. Roots/folk rockers will prefer the former, and those who have multiple personalities like me will just enjoy whatever springs forth from Cordelia's Dad.
Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This is my favorite album of all time, of any genre, any artist. The band is extremely competent and flexible, creating a perfect marriage of hard, almost punk, rock-and-roll and rich, direct, and emotional accoustic-style vocals with apt use of historical lyrics. The result is both passionate and well-paced album that stirs the heart and mind simultaneously. I was extremely lucky to encounter this band, which is an amazing assemblage of incredible talent, in my hometown of Amherst, MA. They have a drummer who can play both rock and roll drums and traditional English and Irish ones (used to excellent effect in Naragansett Bay, where both a rock and roll drumset and a traditional drum can be heard). The acapella song, Farewell to Old Bedford, showcases the talent, clarity, and passion of the lead vocalist. The directness of his vocals go straight to the heart and will have you singing the tune for days. The next two songs, Imaginary Trouble and San Francisco, are great examples of the range of the guitarist as he smoothly delivers accomplished accoustic and plugged-in guitar tracks which combine perfectly with the vocals to create the heart of the songs. This soul-stirring music with a great edge is the perfect antidote to 'catchy' pop written by robots for models to perform. If you can hear Cordelia's Dad in person, all the better, as they have added a singer with great integrety and strength in her voice, Kath, and they are all much sexier than the babyfaced pop phenomena you're likely to see in the nearest stadium.
- Carrie Bernstein
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Tim Eriksen Music- All Rights Reserved.