Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jack Oblivian - Rat City (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records)

 Memphis has long been the place where the rural cultures of the Deep South meet and mix. It was surely the case before Sam Phillips put the ignition in the mighty motor of Sun Records in 1952. But Sun does provide the most obvious and optimal example of Memphis’s place in American musical experience. While Phillips first recorded the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, he made his fortune discovering white performers whose influences were reflective of an emerging South where, prior to but anticipating the social convulsions of the Sixties, whites were being entertained by black performers and vice versa. Well before schools and lunch counters integrated, Southerners radio dial and record shop preferences were crossing racial lines.

What’s this got to do with Jack Oblivian? Lots, as it turns out. Oblivian (or Yarber as his ma and pa know him), is a modern day Memphis mixer, putting together stray stands from Fresno blues to Carolina beach music, from the Stooges to Springsteen and the Clash, he’s a working class musical magpie, and in top form on his new release Rat City.

With Greg (Oblivian) Cartwright and Eric (Oblivian) Freidl in the Oblivians, he became an icon of the (re)emerging garage-rock genre by blasting grease pit , r ‘n’ b infused rock ‘n’ roll at punk tempos. As a soloist (and with his nominal ‘band’ the Tennessee Tearjerkers) Oblivian has purveyed a slightly grown up version of the same thing. He’s become a better singer and musician, and it sounds like he’s running his beloved cheap Jap guitars through better amps in better studios (actually, the portability/affordability of good recording gear is probably the bigger change). But he’s still a thrift shop recycler. And his uncanny ear for sweaty hooks and grooves is sharper than ever. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wild Flag - s/t (Merge Records)

Well before the release of Wild Flag’s debut album on September 13th, videos of the band began to surface on Live versions of the songs from the album, certainly, but more telling was their selection of covers. I’ve seen their takes on Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels,” the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” and “She's My Best Friend” from the  Velvet Underground. What these choices said was that Wild Flag wasn’t going to be limited by any parochial notions from the indie-rock world. Nor were they going to pursue any express political agenda. Instead, Wild Flag get that the most powerful statement they could make as women and musicians was to flat rock out. And that’s what they do on Wild Flag.

After all, what can a poor girl do ‘cept to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band? By the time Sleater-Kinney came to the end of their road in 2006, singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss had already borne the burden of dreams for a generation of young rockers, especially young women. Mary Timony’s career as soloist and the force behind the group Helium was less visible, but no less connected to the preconceptions that animate the alternative-rock world, i.e. a non-star, one-of-us demeanor, aversion to “hooks” (Sleater-K had already broken that one a few times), and  indifference to commercialism and wider popularity. Keyboardist Rebecca Cole from the Minders arrived at the rehearsal studio for Wild Flag’s first practices with the least baggage, and her musicianship and spirit is critical to the success of Wild Flag. Her expressly garage-rock  keys signal Wild Flag’s connection to a rock ‘n’ roll world that spans “Nuggets” style Farfisa organ sounds, John Cale’s playing with the Velvets and the late Greg Hawkes work with the Cars. She can suggest the howling growl of “Sister Ray” or the pizzicato whimsy of the solo from the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” – as she, by God, does expressly on “Future Crimes.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gospel Music - How to Get to Heaven from Jacksonville FL (Kill Rock Stars Records)

Owen Holmes hails from Jacksonville, Florida. Wow, there’s one place I’ve never wanted to go. Already, I digress.

He plays bass for the Black Kids. They’re okay, I guess; hadn’t really given them much thought. If his (mostly) solo project Gospel Music is any indication, though, Holmes has a solid future as a singer-songwriter. And not one of those boring, self-indulgent ones, but more like an entertaining, diverting, poetic and self-indulgent one – hey, the last goes with the territory. Pretty much.

Recorded at home in the Sunshine state, How to Get to Heaven From Jacksonville, FL is a small treasure for anyone attracted to literate, self-abasing humor and primitive, but musical melodicism. Taking substantial cues from Lou Reed and Stephin Merritt, Holmes writes with pith and wit about romantic mismatch (“Bird/Fish”), romantic despair (“This Town Doesn’t Have Enough Bars for Both of Us”), romantic betrayal (“I Shared Too Much with Her”) and romantic resignation (“Bedroom Farce”). He self-accompanies these little morsels with sharp, spare instrumentation that concentrates on acoustic guitar, toy piano and ukulele, fleshed out with all manner of instrumentation, including the standard bass and drums (he even uses banjo without making me grab for my faux-Americana annihilator … a handy weapon, indeed). With limited chops, Holmes makes the most out of nifty little framing lines on guitar, bits and pieces of melodic guitar-age, stray elements of this and that, from the Velvets to the Ventures.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Jim Jones Revue - Burning Your House Down (Punk Rock Blues)

Jim Jones has been knocking around the British rock scene since the late Eighties. His previous band, Thee Hypnotics, combined blues and psychedelic influences, tending toward long-ass jams that weren’t terribly removed from, uh, stoner rock. And in 2004 he formed the Jim Jones Revue. With the band’s new album, Burning Your House Down, I’m pretty much ready to swallow their Kool-Aid.

The JJR was described by one critic, more or less aptly, as “a car crash between Little Richard and the MC5.” Okay, the imagery is a little violent and jejune. It’s also not that far off.

Instead of Thee Hypnotics’ blitzed jams,  the JJR favor short, jagged bursts of maniacal rock ‘n’ roll that pay homage to the primordial intensities of Fifties fathers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. But Fifties homage this ain’t. Like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the JJR take full advantage of the last several decades’ worth of sonic advances and abrasion. Certainly, among their inspirations, you could include the MC5, Stooges, New York Dolls, and the Sonics. And if that’s stoner rock it’s for much shorter attention spans, as the bug-eyed speed-freak rock of Burning Your House Down attests.