Country players of yore practiced self-reliance long before DIY became a rallying cry for punk rockers. So it’s not completely surprising that despite their past and present major-label affiliations, ex-Jayhawk Mark Olson and his wife Victoria Williams release albums on their own label as the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers. Except that their music, a sweet brew of folky balladry and country-reared pop, outshines most of what’s found on record-label rosters.
Thus Zola And The Tulip Tree becomes a semi-hidden pleasure, but one well worth seeking out. Olson’s dulcet-toned voice rings out from these songs like an old backwoods crooner singing traditionals on his porch. Williams plays counterpoint, her unmistakable midrange warble grounding the skyward harmonies. The effect can induce chills, as when the two voices merge in the chorus of the title track, a somber crawl with Williams on wah banjo and guest drummer John Convertino (of Giant Sand and Calexico) keeping the subtle pace. Or in the more sprightly, mandolin-accented ode to the innocent joys of childhood, “Custom Detail Railroad”.
The Creek Dippers even treat their non-vocal tracks with an off-handed charm, taking bass and mandolin player Mike “Razz” Russell’s “Onion River Camp” for a dusty ride before swinging back onto smoother roads. Before closing out this endearing disc with a plaintive love song, “Big Old Sign”, Olson puts on a formidable display of his singing, phrasing, and melodic skills on “Into The Yard”, inducing the listener to hang on his every word — and on the Creek Dippers’ every note.