Caity and Shane of Olden Yolk on Tucker Zimmerman – Song Poet
Just last week Olden Yolk released their sophomore LP, a stunning mix of folk and subtle, blushing psychedelia. Its already pushing up the list of favorites for 2019, so naturally I jumped at getting a chance to look at one of the influences locked on the band’s own turntable. Caity and Shane give some background on finding, and constantly returning to, Tucker Zimmerman’s own sophomore stunner, his “Black Album,” originally issued with no title, and eventually rechristened Song Poet following a proper reissue in 2016. Check out how this record came into the band’s life and what makes it particularly special to them.
“There’s no grand discovery tale here–we first heard Song Poet when Numero Group released the first U.S. pressing in 2016,” admits the pair. “Since then, it’s been our constant companion, and perhaps our most listened to album on tour. What stood out immediately were Zimmerman’s lyrics. Take the first line of “Amusement Park”: “I am not afraid of the dark / But Iam afraid of what some people do with it.” His lyrics are marked by this mystic, forewarning quality; he often jumps from one century to the next, effortlessly. Zimmerman studied composition and came from the San Francisco scene in the late 60’s before embarking on a Fulbright Scholarship and settling in London, then eventually Belgium. When he sings, “I live in their amusement park / and I know what they do with that when they’re through with it,” you can’t help but wonder if he’s referring to the trappings of San Francisco around this time, and his desire to escape the false promises of the countercultural movement. But the beauty of his lyricism is that he makes no concrete assertions, and prefers to act more as a conduit than operate under the pretense of having remedies for humanity’s problems.”
The band expands on what’s made bound the album to them. “Zimmerman’s prolific career has included over a dozen albums, short stories, poems, and films since ‘65–and there will undoubtedly be more, “they explain. “Song Poet, his second LP, was recorded while he was living in London. Some of these songs not only beg to be heard, but read, too. His visualizations offer a kind of addictive escape. This is especially true for “Left Hand of Moses”, in which he becomes maybe and the first and only songwriter to successfully use the line “I’m the Grateful Dead” without being sued or emitting even a shred of pomposity–preceded by a series of near absurdist proclamations such as, “I’m my brother’s keeper/I’m the street sweeper/Doctor strange/I’m book of change/Your daily bread/I’m the Grateful Dead/I’m the everyman/The Left Hand of Moses”. Compare these lines with Tuckerman’s meditative delivery, and his true talent becomes clear; he could make an insult sound like a consolation.”
“Another strength of Song Poet is Zimmerman’s ability to create an engaging and dynamic relationship between very few instruments. Most of the album is just guitar, keys, and Zimmerman’s high, sympathetic voice. He has a natural ability for knowing when to slow down and use his voice as the sole vehicle for emotion, and these are some of our favorite moments on the record. On our first tour of Europe as Olden Yolk, we covered “Left Hand of Moses” every night. David Bowie once touted Zimmerman as a masterful songwriter 60 years ago, but when we’d ask the audience if they’d heard of him, we never get much of a
response. (The song did, though.) In Belgium, we kept looking for signs of him, wondering what his life must be like now. In our own songwriting practice, we’ve studied the carnival-like, playful piano lines, and the heartbreaking, tenuous quality of his voice, which seems to genuinely react to each line sung. He holds a special place for us and though all of his albums are worth listening to, Song Poet is the life-affirming release that is without a doubt our desert island pick.”
Thankfully, as Shane and Caity point out, the album is now more readily available thanks to Numero’s reissue. Unfortunately, the LP is a bit out of print at the moment, but Discogs still prevails if you want to snag a copy and digital versions are there for the less tangibly inclined. Zimmerman’s Song Poet, along with his debut Ten Songs are both captivating records, though this one is a true portrait of intimacy and its easy to see why a band as hushed and nuanced as Olden Yolk hold him in high esteem. Pick this one up in some capacity and pair it with the band’s Living Theatre, out now on Trouble in Mind.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.