How Can I Sleep?

Cordelia's Dad

Omnium Recordings
Postbox 7367
Minneapolis, MN

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Judith Gennett
Bryan, TX (Keos Community Radio)


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" 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.

[Edited by Cynthia A. Harney]

Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior written permission and attribution.

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