Pearly Gate Music Pearly Gate MusicPearly Gate Music
He looks like Ethan Hawke, but he was born in Seattle, not Texas. Maybe that’s why he wears that woodcutter flannel shirt and his songs have that touch of grunge that all of the singer-songwriters from there seem to have (it probably comes standard from the factory, or in the milk at school). If Zach Tillman’s surname rings a bell, then it’s probably because his brother, Josh Tillman , drum’s for Fleet Foxes (Josh also has a similar style of solo project going, just two steps further down the line towards contained sadness). This debut, “Pearly Gate Music”, accompanied by Josh on the drums, reminds one, far far down the line, of the first “Palace Music” records put out by the Oldham brothers (Will, Ned and Paul). Alt-country with folk roots, as though someone who grew up listening to “This Land Is Your Land” decided that when he grew up he wanted to be one of those guys who even feel sorry for their own shadow. So “Pearly Gate Music” starts off with the ethereal and poetic “Golden Funeral” ( “Hey, man, I’m just a guy from Los Angeles,” he sings) followed by the frenetic (very grunge, but also very M. Ward) “Big Escape”, a real country delight, with a torn t-shirt and the soul of an abandoned young man, closing with a noisy final twist (without a doubt, the hit of the album).
The album starts to trot with the third cut, “Navy Blues”, based on whistles and boats that sail off on your wedding day. It’s a song on the shores of a lake, Tillman exchanging knowing looks with his brother, who also sings back-up, which is especially effective on songs like “Oh, What A Time!” which has a 60s sound that’s a little homage to the forever indispensable The Beach Boys , but played like guys with only a guitar and a drum and, at times (on the closing cut, “Rejoice”, or the letter they never wrote to Mom) with a mandolin. Zach is a good guy and he sounds like a good guy would sound; he doesn’t have the talent of Ryan Adams , but he has the freedom that Adams lost along the way. He sounds that free, in the Adams sense of the word (kind, tender and, yes, nude—instrumentally speaking, of course) on “Woke Up!” and “Gossamer Hair”.
Doing what Tillman does looks easy, but it’s not. To sound strong and, especially, different, doing something that many people do (and some, like the aforementioned Adams, do it better when they don’t surrender to the rules of the day or follow the advice of Ethan Johns) isn’t easy. But with songs like “Daddy Wrote You Letters...” he makes it easy. The relationship between his naked “I Was a River” and Pearl Jam’s classic “Wishlist” is curious (Vedder wanted to be a neutron bomb and Tillman settles for turning into a car and asking his girl if she would know where to find him, if he turned into a car after all), as is the bastard rockabilly of “Bad Nostalgia”. Yes, Tillman (Zach) is the guy who is hiding behind the owl’s mask on the cover of the album (posed on the back seat of an old station wagon) and the guy who has dared to face up to his brother with an album that, without going any further, surpasses the latest work of the (on the other hand) prolific Josh ( “Year In The Kingdom”). It sounds fresher— although not as deep, it’s true. In any case, welcome, Zach.