Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen
The state of mind that Zachary Tillman was in the last time we saw him was one of substantial love, of having turned into a big, lanky, Cosby sweater-wearing block of putty for a sweet, pretty girl. It was of the highest bliss. It was of weariness and merriment. They kind of go hand-in-hand some of the time. Minus his regular band, last seen playing with him here in Austin at Stubbs' BBQ, during the sessions we taped before a live audience at the Rachael Ray showcase that we lent a helping hand to, he traveled halfway across the country, from the state of Oregon, with his gal by his side in a roomy red van - leaving his mates behind to be with their pregnant wives and girlfriends. This session shows Tillman's music in a manner that differs from his most recent manner of behavior, which showcased the songs off his spectacular, self-titled debut album in their agitated and pulsating hotness, letting them run red and wild, while still telling the tales of veterans of the Great War and various other people who sound as if they're codgers, up there in years. He writes from the perspective of those who have been gray for longer than we've been alive and we're hearing that tested and explored wisdom coming through in the earnest and lively voice that Tillman uses. With a full band, as heard in these recordings, Tillman vacations in these crafted lives of people who have never existed, but had they existed, it would have been many decades ago and they would have known what it was like to ration sugar and to have seen wheat cent pennies fresh from the mint being handed to them as change at the corner market. It's a line from the song "Bad Nostalgia" that is a reoccurring focal point every time the record is played - it gets me - a line that seems to ring from the core of Tillman, as if he might swear up and down that he's been here before or that he's lived other lives besides his own. He sings, "I've had bad nostalgia all my life," and it seems as if it just might be in his blood to believe that he's felt things and been with and had conversations with people that he's never met before, as if he's covering up wrinkles with his young man's skin. He recalls talks and the way certain lights hit upon certain objects and perhaps he's flung into a weird tornado of remembrance that shorts him out and what comes next are these songs about daddies writing their children from the clink and loving a man who died 2000 years ago. He might be selectively reincarnated multiple times over. Maybe he's a collection of so many different people, from so many different generations that there's no way to keep track of them. Tillman's songs can be robust and they can be stripped back. Either way, they evoke a timeless elegance of wandering spirits, unsure of where they want to settle down. They find that the wandering is remarkably romantic and the impulse is not to change anything, to just continue wandering. He sings on "Big Escape," "I've got the patience if you've got the gusto. It's about time for a big escape," and that patience - in spooks and characters and scenery and the good stuff - is more than evident in Tillman. He will keep on finding himself wrapped in these nostalgic riddles, trying to keep pacing with all of the unravelings, all of the miles and all of the gracious faces that keep flashing before him, young and old.