On his various solo albums and group albums with Cordelia's Dad, Tim Eriksen has looked for ways to reinterpret traditional folk songs. This time, he has decided to present traditional music in as basic a form as possible. "14 songs for voice alone," reads the legend on the back cover of Soul of the January Hills, and inside, Eriksen reveals that the performances were "recorded in a single unedited take … in a tower on the wall surrounding the Benedictine Abbey in Jaroslaw, Poland." The location is notable in that singing in a tower has given Eriksen's low-tenor/high-baritone voice power, but not much carry. There is little echo present in the room, so that the tendency toward sonority in this kind of music is reduced. Still, the music has a droning quality. Imagine an entire album of Ralph Stanley singing variations on "O Death." Eriksen sings the lyrics, full of references to kings, soldiers, and true loves, telling stories in which the men tend to "ruin" the women and sometimes kill them, too, with what seems like the same simple, singsong melody over and over. He holds notes as long as he likes, and he doesn't worry about song structure or pace. When he introduces a falsetto ending on each line in "A Soldier Traveling from the North," the relief to the listener, just by getting some variation in the relentless repetitiveness of the music, is considerable. The point, of course, is to re-create the impression of a field recording of some unlettered hill country amateur singing authentic folk music, except, of course, that the singer is actually an ethnomusicologist and college lecturer with a shaven head and a gold earring. That's the folk process for you.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann