It's been a while since we've featured Erskine's music on the blog and I wanted to correct that situation after receiving a nice tape from Brian this past summer. I'd listened to it once when I first got it and was really impressed with the playing and the tune selection (there are many tunes we'd never encountered before) but in the bustle of Irish Week and driving between Toronto, Montreal, and Gaspé throughout the summer, I didn't have the chance to think about which tunes to share.
I recently asked Brian to pick two of his favourites and he suggested the tracks 1 and 16 on the tape, both tunes for which we don't know the names. They strike my ears as similar to other tunes from the area around Douglastown. They are both played in the raised bass tuning that Erskine almost always used when playing in the key of D; that is, you tune the low bass G string up to A. We've been told that many of the older fiddlers in the area raised their bass strings for many tunes.
I find that both these tunes have a really nice rolling flow, something which seems a little counter-intuitive because the melodies are also highly syncopated using the "hook" and "stutter" bowing throughout. You would almost expect them to have a jerky feel, but track 16 especially, has an almost gentle rolling feel. At the end of each turn in these tunes, you don't hear the characteristic strongly marked endings that are so typical of Canadian fiddle music. Instead, Erskine inserts subtle syncopated licks which allow him to flow right back into the following turn. It makes it hard to stop these tunes once you get started; you've been warned!