Zola & the Tulip Tree is the third release by Mark Olson since his departure from the Jayhawks. The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers also include his wife, Victoria Williams, and Mike "Razz" Russell, but it is Olson's vehicle. He writes nearly all of the songs, and the group is eventually called Mark Olson and OHRCD on their fourth release. At this point, his Creek Dipper output was available only by mail-in orders. His next album, My Own Jo Ellen, would be released on the Hightone label. His first two Creek Dipper releases (The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers and Pacific Coast Rambler) are both stripped-down, acoustic, home-recorded releases, and Zola is no different. Hearing Olson in this lo-fi setting makes you miss two things about his work with the Jayhawks: the harmonies with Gary Louris, and songs with a rock sound. What's missing in Olson's Creek Dipper releases is variety. Except for the occasional lively tune here and there ("Custom Detroit Railroad," "Cedric Harper," and the instrumental "Onion River Camp"), Olson does very little to change the pulse of this CD. The acoustic sound and recording quality of Zola gives you the feeling that you are hearing what would be other artists' demo recordings. These songs are interesting yet feel like they could be improved upon with another exploration. A lot of great artists release all-acoustic albums -- Beck, Springsteen, and Neil Young come to mind -- but they sprinkle them throughout their careers. Beck's Mutations was a good album partly because it was released between the dance-heavy Odelay and Midnight Vultures. It would be nice to see Olson vary his sound more from album to album, too. It would make a good album like Zola & the Tulip Tree stand out more and not get lost in a series of similar releases.
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AllMusic Review by Dan Lee