So way back when before I started writing about Native American history and how much I hate Columbus day we were in the middle of a series of local country music in-store performances sponsored by Schlitz. We still have three really remarkable free shows, and the next of them is the one which inspired the entire series.
Gus and Nova and I go to the Midtown Farmer’s Market every week unless there’s a big pile of work to do here in the shop, or a really weird bug in the garden or something. There are always fun things at the Farmer’s Market besides the food we buy and it’s a great place to let kids play because there’s enough space for them since it’s outside. There is also always music and every week we sit and listen for a while. A couple months ago we heard the last three or four songs the Ericksons sang, and all three of us loved them. Gus and Nova are pretty used to seeing people play and sing, but they usually start goofing around after a while (they even horsed around when I took them to see Papa John play!). They liked the Erickson’s so much they sat on the curb the whole time.
Somehow an invitation for them to come play in the shop led to us talking about putting together a series of acoustic music – and somehow that evolved into country music. I think the Cactus Blossoms’ new disc being released this month led us there. Altogether we have offered free shows (and free beer!) featuring country, folk and bluegrass this month. The Ericksons, I suppose, are in the middle there.
I guess I don’t know what fits into country music anymore, but the Ericksons, like that other sibling duo the Cactus Blossoms, are definitely singing and harmonizing together in a way that you don’t expect from the country stations on the radio. The two groups find their inspiration in different sources, though, because there is more of the Staple Singers in the Ericksons style than the Louvin Brothers who are a Cactus Blossoms staple. Theirs is a rootsier sound, with a soulful, more southern approach to harmony. The accompaniment in their songs, on the other hand, is far more modern, being closer to modern indie rock and folk than the old time that inspires the Cactus Blossoms.
A couple years ago the Secret Sisters, a sibling duo from Nashville leapt into music industry paydirt overnight, finding themselves performing alongside luminaries like Elvis Costello and getting accolades from no less than record producer T Bone Burnett, surely as responsible as any other industry insider, for the successful mass marketing of Americana. They deserved their success, both sisters sing with enormous range and dynamism, but I didn’t find their album very accessible. It’s mostly covers and even though it was remarkably recorded and produced entirely with analog equipment, the whole package is too slick and fancy for my taste.
I much preferred the Erickson’s new disc don’t be scared, don’t be alarmed. Never hard on your ears, Bethany and Jennifer have voices that are earthier, more soulful and more country than the sisters from Nashville. And don’t be scared, don’t be alarmed is an album of original songs, stuff you could say is in the Ani DiFranco singer-songwriter set but which really couldn’t be sung so well by anyone else. With “How I Love You” they have invented a genuine, memorable new love song (It’s the song in the video up above and is also on the disc). It has a bold, melodic chorus reminiscent of “Landslide” and in the great tradition of American folk music creates a big arrangement out of nearly nothing so tactfully it’s beautiful.
And “Box Full of Letters”, which sounds like a cheery pop tune borrowed from the Cities 97 morning programming, quietly carries a theme out of Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus without pouring a bunch of gloom and doom into the listener’s ear. “You’re glad to be alive,” they even sing.
“But what if you weren’t? / What would you leave behind?” That’s the kind of turn that appears throughout the disc, and the kind of thing you notice with each new listen. It’s a great disc.
And one more thing about the Ericksons: They are the only group in our Schlitz Kickin’ Country series to have actually put out music on wax. Last year the Ericksons made a single that they will have for sale here at Hymie’s on Sunday! We can only hope that each of the six other groups in the series will one day also have their songs on vinyl, but for the time being this is the one! It was a limited release when they made it last year and will probably soon fall out of print. Hymie’s has started carrying CDs again for the first time in many years, and only local discs, but having actual vinyl be a part of our “six weeks of country” series is special.
Tomorrow: Probably the last post about Columbus day. I’m running out of indigenous issues to be indignant about. I guess.
The Ericksons will perform a free set here at Hymie’s on Sunday at 3pm. All customers 21 and over are welcome to a free tall boy of Schlitz. The Ericksons will have copies of both of their CDs and their 7″ single for sale. We will have about 100,000 other records for sale too.