Okay, let’s get all the introductions out of the way first. Seth Zimmerman, the lead singer of Tangletown, is Bob Dylan’s nephew and Jakob Dylan’s cousin. The album was co-produced by Bobby Z (of Prince fame) and is the first release on the Minneapolis-based Zinc records which is run by the aforementioned Bobby Z and Prince. Given the lineage of the artists involved you might expect Ordinary Freaks to consist of purple-tinged Dylanesque whining mixed with a little bit of Wallflowers. There is a certain similarity to the Wallflower sound here but what you really get is more akin to Rusted Root or some of the more pop-oriented members of the alt-country movement.
On first impression the most distinctive element of Ordinary Freaks is Zimmerman’s raspy, but certainly not unpleasant singing voice. Yes, it sounds a little like Dylan (with infinitely better enunciation), but his sound is not an imitation or a contrivance.
However, after repeated listenings the most memorable element of the album is the fabulous hooks that permeate every song. If Seth inherited anything from his famous uncle it is the ability to create a catchy two-minute melody that sticks in a listener’s head for weeks. If you are looking for the lyrical deftness of Dylan, look somewhere else. Songs about relationships, alienation and loneliness dominate Ordinary Freaks—in other words the lyrics are made up of standard contemporary pop-songwriter fodder. No “Blowing in the Wind” or “Tangled Up in Blue” here, but then would we expect that from any other artists’ first album.
The strongest track is the bitter-sweet ode to a former lover, “In Green.” Lyrically it is more reminiscent of early Elvis Costello than Dylan with lines like “you treated me like a blister”, “you said our time was dead time” and a fade-out chorus of “you don’t own me.” The raw emotion of the song is a nice change of pace from the plastic dramas that dominate commercial radio these days.
“See Right Through” is also an excellent slice of the Tangletown sound. It sports a killer hook combined with a raspily effective Zimmerman vocal. The track owes an obvious debt to The Wallflowers but maintains its own quirky charm and individuality.
Hopefully Zimmerman and the rest of Tangletown can outlive the Dylan comparisons and build their own following like Jakob was able to do with the Wallflowers. If they keep producing records of this quality, they definitely deserve to be known as something other than “Bob Dylan’s nephew’s band.”
// Notes from the Road
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