A warm album made up of strong but intimate songs wrapped in imaginative arrangements.
The Big Potato reissue of Tucker Zimmerman’s ‘Over Here In Europe’ represents the first time it has been reissued on vinyl (it was originally released on French label Spalax in 1974) and its first-ever appearance on CD and in digital format.
Zimmerman’s profile has recently been getting something from a boost from newer acts such as Big Thief, with whom he toured in Europe in 2022, and Angel Olsen. Both have covered his tunes in recent performances.
Zimmerman was involved in the mid-60’s San Francisco music scene and co-wrote a song (‘Dropping Out’) with Paul Butterfield which appeared on the Butterfield Blues Band’s ‘Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw’ album.
In 1966, a Fulbright scholarship took him to Europe, and out of the clutches of the draft board, to study music composition in Rome. While there, he met his wife-to-be, Marie-Claire. Post-study and unable to return to the US due to the draft, they headed for London where despite UK visa issues Zimmerman cut an album with Tony Visconti. Visa and record company issues led to the album disappearing and Zimmerman and Marie-Claire moving to Belgium, where her parents lived, close to Liege.
Zimmerman cut a second album and toured extensively in Europe. His website bio says he played 230 shows in 1974 alone. That was also the year he went to Paris to record the songs that became ‘Over Here in Europe’. The songs were written at the Zimmermans’ new home in Argenteau, Belgium over 1973 and early 1974 with the exception of ‘The Girl Who Cried My Tears’ composed three years earlier.
Zimmerman plays guitar, harmonica and keyboards including the synthesizer “an Arp monophonic with a much softer and mellower tone [than the Moog]”. Zimmerman was excited by the instrument and spent “every down-moment of those sessions as well every lunch hour experimenting with the incredible sounds this instrument could produce”.
The record also features Tristan Murail playing the Ondes Martenot, an early 1930’s electronic keyboard of which Zimmerman had been a fan for several years. The other musicians involved in the recording were Gerard Quernener (bass) and Francis Cavallaro and Gerard Berlioz (both drums). Marie-Claire provides backing vocals.
The album opens with ‘Good Old Days’ which sees Zimmerman mulling the cyclical nature of nostalgia over a backing that recalls the cafes of Montmartre. The second track, ‘Oregon’ is propelled by the rhythm section and describes the pioneers’ journey from sea to shiny sea followed by a turn north at the Pacific where they headed for Oregon. Zimmerman wrote the song for folk legend and fellow US exile in Belgium, Derroll Adams.
The next track ‘America The Child’ rolls the narrative forward a century and a bit with Zimmerman reflecting from his new home on the direction of the US going forwards. The album’s title track turns the tables musing on exile and connections to family at home. Side 1’s closing track ‘Talking To The Night’ is a tender song with a softer vocal in which Zimmerman sings to a companion out in the night. It has some very sweet keyboard work and is bedded on a delicate warm backing vocal.
‘Someone’s Crazy Plan’ which opens side 2 bumps in with a rubbery bass line over which the vocal pulls together scenes from life that may be part of the titular plan. ‘Girl Who Cried My Tears’ tells, with notable affection, the story of how Zimmerman came to meet Marie-Claire and their adventures up to their arrival in Belgium. It’s also the track on which Zimmerman fulfilled his long-held ambition of composing for a quartet of Ondes Matenot.
The next song, ‘Soldier Mountain Lookout’, has a lyric inspired by Zimmerman’s summer job as a lookout for the US Forest Service. The isolated station looked over several states. Zimmerman contrasts this with the news he hears from elsewhere. After this sense of isolation, ‘Claire and I’ is more upbeat describing the sense of community at the Zimmermans’ home with friends from near and far stopping by, staying for times. The album’s final track, ‘And The World Keeps Turning’, is a philosophical closer with some lovely choral work and some very nice harmonica.
‘Over Here in Europe’ is a warm album made up of strong but intimate songs wrapped in imaginative arrangements. The use of the keyboards is pretty unusual for the time. Instrumentally the record sounds both American and European. Hopefully the reissue programme along with the high-profile endorsements will result in Zimmerman’s music reaching a wider audience.