Jack O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers - "Don't String Me Along" (The Disco Outlaw)
Jack Oblivian (né Yarber) could probably record a dubstep album and people would still refer to it as a garage rock record. When you’re a member of the Compulsive Gamblers, the Cool Jerks, and Johnny Vomit and the Dry Heaves, not to mention a founding member of the (recently reunited) Oblivians themselves, it’s a label that sticks, and rightfully so. Yet, over the course of three full-lengths as Jack-O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Yarber has shown considerable talent as a songwriter, and not exclusively of punk ditties.
That’s not to say that anything on Yarber’s most recent album, Disco Outlaw, doesn’t land solidly in the Memphis grease wheelhouse. But as on The Flipside Kid before it, the album is full of strong melodies and some serious guitar action on the one hand, and occasionally unexpected instrumentation and rowdy genre nods on the other.
Despite various references to hard luck times (guitars in pawn shops, cars at the bottom of ditch road, etc.), The Disco Outlaw has as a wild beer bash feel to it. Stonsey bent-string guitar jams (including a meaty modern update of Travis Wammack’s classic instrumental hit “Scratchy”) abound and make up the bulk of the record. But it’s the stylistic departures from form that provide the most interesting moments here. Indeed, the Celtic-tinged “Crook for Your Look” is perhaps the most catchy track on the album, while the dark, swampy “Blood Blank Blues,” with it’s swirling organ lines and accordion pulse, provides an essential slow burn respite from the album’s abundant scorch appeal.
If one were keeping score, it would appear as though Greg Cartwright has emerged as the “serious songwriter” of the Oblivians, having penned songs for girl group legend Mary Weiss and worked with Memphis studio cats like Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. Jack Yarber, however, deserves credit as a songsmith in his own right. He’s not reinventing the wheel here, but Yarber clearly knows his way around a catchy chorus, a memorable melody, and a mean guitar lick. In the end, these songs succeed in their simplicity and exquisite lack of bullshit.