When you come to the Jack Oblivian party, you are going to expect some pawn shops, bad intentions and low-down sleaze and on Rat City (in stores September 13th), he delivers. From the feral existentialism of songs like “Rat City” and “Mass Confusion” to the unhinged love songs with underlying sweetness like “Girl on the Beach” to vignette-heavy songs like “Girl with the Bruises”, Jack disembowels American roots music and the resulting deconstructed songs are tied together with an undeniable groove that only a drummer could muster. Among the originals are some well-picked covers, including a buzzing psyche version of “Moses and Me” by Tommy James and the Shondells, the Howlin’ Wolf-esque “Old Folks Boogie”, re-imagined as a Mississippi trash-blues worthy of T-Model Ford in his prime and “Lover Please!”, a hit for Clyde McPhatter that showcases the incredible guitar slinging of labelmate and collaborator John Paul Keith. Jack Oblivian produced Rat City and played a myriad of instruments on the sessions, at times playing everything.
Memphis based Jack Oblivian (aka Jack Yarber) was a founding member of the garage-bands The Compulsive Gamblers and The Oblivans but he has contributed to a dizzying array of projects over the years, including Andre Williams, Jack Oblivian & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, The Cool Jerks, ’68 Comeback, King Louie & His Loose Diamonds, Greg Oblivian & the Tip Tops, Jack Oblivian & The Cigarillos, The Natural Kicks and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns.
Jack Yarber began his professional music career in high school, appearing alongside high school friend and future Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus in the Corinth, Mississippi-based Johnny Vomit & the Dry Heaves. After moving to Memphis, he met Greg Cartwright and they formed the Compulsive Gamblers. The Oblivians formed in 1993 as a side project to the Compulsive Gamblers – the members of the Oblivians shared songwriting and each member supplied vocals, guitar work, and percussion on albums, switching instruments during live shows. The Oblivians lasted from 1993 until 1998, at which time Yarber and Cartwright left the band to reform the Compulsive Gamblers. The second incarnation of the Gamblers lasted from 1998 to 2003.
Yarber played a role in the color themes of the White Stripes – after a Gamblers show in 1999, White (a Gamblers/Oblivians fan) explained his ideas for the red/white theme for his new band. Yarber recalled that “Greg and I were already aware of the band from their first 7”, so I offered to sell them my red National Airline guitar for $200. In 2008 when we re-formed, Jack gave me one of his red National Airlines to play on the Oblivians tour.” That tour (with the Gories reunited on the bill) sold out venues in the US and Europe.
Post-Oblivians, Yarber formed the Tennessee Tearjerkers and recorded critically praised releases for Goner and Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum. At the same time as Yarber was writing songs with the Tearjerkers, he was also contributing in various ways to a number of side projects including, the Knaughty Knights, the Limes, and South Filthy which included collaborations with longtime associates Walter Daniels, and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans. In 2004, the legendary Fortune Records soul singer Nathaniel Mayer covered his song “Satisfied Fool” on his I Just Want to Be Held on Fat Possum.
His collaborations with the cream of the Memphis music crop guarantee that the players on Rat City fit the bill like the proverbial glove. Jack Oblivian channels the spirit of proto punk as well as blues, country and junkyard rock; his songs embody haunting, echo-y swamp boogie.