Bob’s Your Uncle – The Music of Seth & Luke Zimmerman

by Aaron Galbraith

I’m sure everyone here will at least be somewhat aware of the excellent work of Bob’s son Jakob both as a solo artist and as the front man with The Wallflowers (I’m been a fan since the first album and was lucky enough to catch them live when they opened for Lindsay Buckingham & Christine McVie last year).

Even Bob’s grandson Pablo Dylan has been getting some press these days following the release of his debut EP in February this year, “The Finest Somersault”.

Bob’s daughter with Carolyn Dennis, Desi Dennis-Dylan, has released some fine performances on YouTube, where she shows just how much she takes after mother in the vocal department! Here is her cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy:

 

Dylan will never match that other Bob (Marley) for sheer number of musical offspring/siblings/wives/descendants I would like to talk about another 2 relatives of Bob who have been quietly making albums for several years now – Bob’s nephews Seth & Luke Zimmerman. They are the sons of Bob’s brother David.

Seth Zimmerman made his recording debut with his band Tangletown on their first and only album “Ordinary Freaks”, released in 1999.

The album was produced by Seth along with brothers Bobby Z (Prince’s drummer) and David Z. The album itself doesn’t sound much like Dylan & The Revolution instead the influences are pretty obviously acts such as The Band, The Replacements and more specifically cousin Jakob’s Wallflowers.

Tracks such as “See Right Through” and “Madeline Knows” would have fit on those first 2 Wallflowers album quite nicely.

We drove so fast I could hardly see
The white lines in hiding sight
And the wind
She'll take it on the chin again
when I say
She slip me back to yesterday
  • See Right Through (S. Zimmerman)

 

Perhaps the most Dylan-esque moment on the album comes with “Harlequin’s Device” a song about no talent bands who make it big.

She was Daddy's curse
He was puttin' up with the worst
And along came the joker and the queen
Even through those years
She was crying out all those tears
  • Harlequin’s Device (S. Zimmerman)

 

It’s an album that begs to be listened to again. Whilst it’s not quite as good as The Wallflowers in their prime it’s still full of gritty guitars, scratchy vocals and endless hooks to keep you listening right to the end and maybe even to press play once more when you get there.

Following the end of Tangletown things went quiet for Seth for a while (in terms of physical releases anyway, I’m sure he was gigging around the city). Then in 2007 he teamed up with some other established Minneapolis musicians and formed The 757s – named for the noise of the Boeing 757 on takeoff.

Seth shares lead vocal and songwriting duties with Paul Pirner and Jimmy Peterson. They have described themselves as:

“Hazardous—Not recommended for straight laced. Comedic stance. Bad disposition. Powerful. Able to withstand malt force. Sleek. Timeless and Stupid. The 757s.”

They quickly made three albums:

  • “Tell The Pilgrims It’s A Potluck” (2007)
  • “Freeway Surrender” (2009)
  • “Last Laugh” (2010)

The first album is probably the best and is available in full on Spotify. It’s a bit Strokes-y, a touch Combat Rock-era Clash with a wannabe Keith Moon drummer.

Here is the video for the track “Amateur” from “Freeway Surrender”:

 

Then in 2013 they released a single called “Trick Of The Light” with a new album to follow but nothing seems to have been released – unless I missed it…any information if anything else ever appeared from the band would be appreciated!

 

Again, Seth seems to have dropped off the radar for the last few years, but hopefully we will hear more from him again in the future.

Luke Zimmerman started his musical career in the short-lived outfit The Crow River Band. They released one album, the eponymous “The Crow River Band” album in 2003. Luke writes all the songs, sings lead vocals and plays guitar. It’s a fantastic album and I really wish I could link you to some of the tracks here but nothing seems to be available on Spotify or YouTube (beware: there is another band with the same name on YouTube).

Luke sounds a little like a young Lou Reed and a lot like Ben Kweller. The music bears some resemblance to those acoustic Velvet Underground tracks they sprinkled across their four great albums. Stand out tracks on the album include “I’m A Success”, “I’ve Forgotten You” and “Shades Of Grey” which has more than a passing musical resemblance to “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”.

For me the absolute best track is “The Bluffs” with its hypnotic vocals and arrangement and the killer Dylan-esque line:

She said she’d always respect me
But that’s all right
I haven’t call her on it yet
  • The Bluffs (L. Zimmerman)

Whilst the first half of the album is all acoustic and rather lovely, musically things pick up on in the second half, with the rocking “On The Way To See The Priest” and “Shifty Stranger”.

Several lyrics do show the influence of his uncle Bob:

Ain’t I cute
You can listen to my flute
For eternity
  • Shifty Stranger (L. Zimmerman)
Harriett says to me
I got a dozen broken knees
And a nose that won’t sneeze
Stop your inquisition please
  • Harriett Iscariot (L. Zimmerman)

I really enjoy this album and can’t recommend it enough. It can still be picked up cheaply from Amazon or Ebay.

After the band split, Luke made the move to solo artist status and released his debut solo album “Twilight Waltz” in 2005. The whole album is available on YouTube this time but I will pick out some of my favourites to share with you here.

The album has been described as “an honest, heady mix of alt-country that combine the familiar sounds of Lou Reed’s art-rock, John Lennon’s pop, and Neil Young’s rustic folk-rock”. I can’t argue with that – again, it continues were the Crow River Band left off and is universally excellent throughout.

“I like that you turn it on and it has a consistent and coherent mood to it,” Zimmerman says. “The name sums it up. It’s from a book by [Frederick] Nietze, about how the whole trick to life is to maintain cheerfulness though there’s trouble all around you.”

Here is perhaps the most intriguing track on the album for a Dylan fan:

 

If you’re going home again
Go see my only friend
He’s the one who’ll be wrapped up tight
In his electric hospital bed
Tell him that I’m caught in a world that’s bought and sold
If you’re going home again
Please pay him what I owe

 

But I just can’t sit back ideally
And watch while someone’s living on the corn field of my youth
Tell her I’ll just be hiding in Duluth
  • Duluth (L. Zimmerman)

I’m not done knowing you
I’m not done knowing you
You’ve got your life now
  • Not Done Knowing You (L. Zimmerman)

Second album “Shoebox” was released in 2012. Luke describes it:

“Shoebox was an experiment in form and execution. I wanted to write a record that was basically one continuous story, told not through narration — like a musical — but through a series of songs. I chose to write about the destruction of a relationship; it was a love story. I recorded it all myself with help from friends who came out to record with me but I recorded it, produced it, mixed it. It took a few years to get it done, so by the end, I was burned out on love songs and sitting alone in a room staring at a computer”.

Like the preceding two albums this one is again very strong. One thing he has in common with his uncle is his strength as a lyricist as well as his melodies which stick with you way after the track has finished. “Shoebox” begs to be listened to over and over. Each time different tracks and snatches of lyrics jump out at you.

“I’m more of a writer than anything else, so I try to make the lyrics interesting, something to listen to, which I suppose is more of a folk sensibility. I try not to repeat a standard 1-4-5 blues progression and stick to major and minor chords so that’s where the jazz influence comes in”.

All my words were written for you
All my tears were dripping for you
All there was, was you and only you
  • You (L. Zimmerman)
The way you smile says you’re gonna leave
  • You’re The One I Love (L. Zimmerman)

The album seemingly didn’t receive a wider release. You won’t find it on Amazon or any other major retailers site. I picked the CD up from Luke’s own Bandcamp page (It was only $7 and is still readily available from there – and my copy came with a nice little signed note from Luke…which was nice)

Prior to the release of third album, the excellently titled “Heyday For The Naysayers” in 2014, one interviewer asked him the obvious question:

Do you ever get any comparisons to Bob Dylan? How do you feel about that?

“Sure I do. I think everyone who writes lyrics at this point probably gets compared to him by people who are interested in lyrics and know who he is. I get it more, surely. I think it’s an easy story to sell by people who are writing about music. I’ve had people come up to me at shows and tell me how they think we compare. I’d rather people listen to the songs and try to get something out of them as standalone things, but I realize that’s probably not that realistic. I’d hope that the songs are good enough to hold their own, but he’s generally regarded as one of the best songwriters out there and I think any critic who is comparing anyone to him is putting the musician in a hard spot.

It happened to Springsteen, and Conor Oberst, etc. (not that I’m comparing myself to them, now, too) and it’s like comparing a new painter to Picasso or Michaelangelo, someone established as an example of the medium. If you start out looking at a canvas knowing that everything you do will be compared to Van Gogh it’s hard to even pick up a brush. People will compare, that’s their prerogative. I think it’s sometimes in lieu of doing real criticism on the songs — which I’m not sure songs really need to be criticized in that way anyway. Music is personal. I hope people like the songs (or don’t like the songs) based on the songs themselves and not on who it may sound like or what backstory there is.”

Again, you will find the whole album available on YouTube and it really is worth checking out. I like it a lot and it is difficult for me to pick out my favourite tracks to share with you. I’ve gone with “Ship Sinking Down” and “Little Girl” – I hope you like them as much as I do!

Luke states: “I think the recording of “Everything Is Happening” turned out well. There’s a good build to it and I love Jake’s solo in it. “I Will Believe You” and “The Road to Damascus” have good beats.”Time Passing By” has sort of an unrelenting feel to it that I like. “Smile!” I think is a good recap of the record and has good performances, and “Ship Sinking Down” has some interesting lyrics.”

 

Meanwhile the idols
All strode through the turnstiles
The beautiful people with expandable keyholes
They’re wildly embracing while looking for somebody else
  • Ship Sinking Down (L. Zimmerman)
The world around you has gone insane

And I can’t stop the rain
  • Little Girl (L. Zimmerman)

Luke said of “Little Girl:

“I wrote the song a long time ago; I didn’t have kids. I wanted to try to get at the idea of things changing and the inability to stop change and the fear of change. When all around is storming and you’re looking for an umbrella — and there’s a helplessness. I always liked this 4-track recording my band did of the song, but it didn’t make it onto our record, so this new record came along, and I thought it was a good ideological fit and changed a few of the lyrics. I think it works.”

I had a lot of fun exploring this side street of Bob’s family (I hope you did too!) as it gave me a chance to go back and listen to these fine albums again and again over the last few weeks. There is not much information available online about the brothers’ work so it’s been a challenge to piece this small article together. My hope is that this in some way readdresses the balance and opens their music up to a wider audience.

I also hope that we will hear more in future from these 2 fine artists.

Smile, everybody smile!

 

 

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