Album Review : Jack Oblivian : Rat City

If Iggy Pop and Jon Spencer had a love child, with R.L.Burnside growling through the labor coaching… if R.L. Burnside and Keith Richards had a baby… if Maureen Tucker and Stan Laurel had a baby… wow, what a mess of metaphors. Anyway, it’s a mess that should convey some idea of Jack (aka Yarber) Oblivian’s sound: at least for the first couple Rat City tracks, when he’s referencing his sound’s roots and fastening our seat belts. Basic blues-rock riffs and pretty standard structures support Oblivian’s casual rants about “Mass Confusion” “and “Rat City.” But the set really gets its strut on with a ravenous bite into Slim Green’s “Old Folks Boogie,” which could stand up straight next to one from Howlin’ Wolf.

Rat City is a carefree ride on a merry-go-round of classic (mid-century- on) styles, blended into a fresh, cohesive whole by Oblivian’s versatile writing, apt cover choices, and joyful flair. Collaboration with his Memphis buddies doesn’t hurt – the set oozes with life. “Dark Eyes” is a tasty slice of power pop with classic punk (Richard Hell, Nick Lowe) tones and dynamics. “Jealous Heart,” “Kidnapper,” and “Girl on the Beach” merge power pop and classic mainstream (Springsteen, Petty) tones with NewWave editing and smarts.  (However this came to be, “Girl” is driven by a faster version of the riff Weezer used on “Island in the Sun.” It’s so well employed; the similarity doesn’t bother me.) Billy Swan’s “Lover Please!” is delightful, gumbo-spiced pop.

“Rat City” reeks with the perfect beats, squeals and buzzes, and atmospheric touches for a four a.m. drive to a rundown diner or roadhouse; a journey through everything many of us remember and love about American working-class splendor – or, if not splendor, at least a sense of its possibility. In an era so fraught with economic, environmental, and just plain survival issues and concerns, I can’t think of anything better. Wait – yeah, I can – as an inveterate dj and music geek, I’m used to having to change elements for a good mix, i.e., rarely staying with one artist for more than a couple of tracks. Oblivian manages to keep these 12 cuts so fresh and mobile, I can imagine playing this all the way from Memphis to that gem of a joint in the woods; the one that keeps its lights on all night.

–Post by Mary Leary

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