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.