Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

An eclectic survey of recent recordings

By Stephen Grimstead

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997: 

Tom Ovans
Dead South (Demon [Import Only -- Fiend CD 783])

IN THIS FRANTIC AGE OF instantaneous information bombardment at every turn, the old adage "voice in the wilderness" has lost its original meaning. Now it's not so much a struggle to be heard, but to be heard above the endless clutter and debris of what passes for entertainment these days. Our increasingly disposable culture has made it almost impossible for anything contemporary to have much lasting value.

Because he refuses to change his traditional orientation to fit into current popular trends, musician/songwriter Tom Ovans has almost single-handedly become the wilderness. Throughout his fourth full-length album, Dead South, Ovans goes so far against the grain of accepted "commercial" tastes that he could just as well have recorded it on the moon. Sticking to the tried-and-true blues/folk method of sparse instrumentation and something worth saying, Ovans delivers a dozen tightly woven songs that each cut deep without having to resort to flash, self-pity, or shock value.

Although Ovans is widely recognized in Europe, his notoriety hasn't yet extended to the same degree at his home here in the States. A true independent in every sense of the word, Ovans is also a master of using sound as texture in his recordings. This ambience adds another level of intimacy to Dead South, which comes across almost like Ovans himself is there in the room singing directly to the listener. Atmospheric tunes like "Better Off Alone" and "Real Television" benefit greatly from the understated production they're given, emerging as sharp-edged cautionary tales well worth hearing. Ovans never has to scream to make his point clear, and his rough-hewn and raspy voice is like an old friend who always shoots you straight.

In Ovans' bittersweet world, the title Dead South becomes an epitaph signifying a total lack of direction instead of an actual topographic destination. What was once good is becoming rapidly gone, and honest storytellers like Ovans are becoming harder to find. By keeping the pulse of the past alive, Tom Ovans emerges as a poet in the guise of a hobo, dispensing essential truths without pretense or any other artificial coatings. -- David D. Duncan

The Oblivians
... Play 9 Songs With Mr. Quintron (Crypt)

AFTER A DELAY AS CRYPT RECORDS switched their distribution from New York's Matador Records to San Francisco's Revolver, the latest from the Oblivians finally hit the streets last week. And it was well worth the wait, let me tell you. Recorded in a few days here at Cotton Row with help from New Orleans' organ-playing fool Mr. Quintron, 9 Songs shows the trio fashioning their usual trashy blues-driven punk into a gospel-flavored soul revival that should put to rest suspicions that the Oblivians are just a punk band.

While their live shows have always displayed impressive licks and a command over a diversity of styles, their rough-hewn records have often failed to do justice to how tight this trash rock really is, all too often sucking its subtleties into impenetrable static and feedback.

9 Songs on the other hand -- whether it's because of the focus lent by the gospel theme or because they're just getting better at it -- shows admirable restraint, perfectly balancing the band's tendencies toward sonic assault with crazed and swooning come-to-Jesus vocals and clean, deep guitar furrows. From the reworking of the traditional "Live the Life" to the soul-bursting "Final Stretch" to the Pentecostal proclamations of "What's The Matter Now," this record reeks of the tension between religion and the devil's music while pointing once again to the identity of the two as spontaneous flashes of ecstasy. Which is just another way of saying that there's some trashed-up and rockin' gospel here the likes of which haven't been seen since Jerry Lee Lewis got kicked out of Bible college for wrapping a hymn around a boogie-woogie beat.

At the risk of drooling (or being mistaken for the band's publicist), I'd have to say that this is not only the best Oblivians record yet, but the best local record so far this year. And with its distinctly Southern hybrid of gospel, blues, rockabilly, punk, and soul, it just might be one Memphis music-heads will be searching for in old record bins 40 years from now. -- Jim Hanas

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