Friday, November 09, 2007

Tom Ovans' blues

First time I heard Tom Ovans’ "Gonna Be Missing You", I thought, “this must be the best Dylan’s song Bob Dylan never wrote”. It was easy to fall under the bloody damn “a new Bob Dylan” label, but it was just for a while. Tom Ovans is his own man, as I later discovered on a series of incredibile great albums, from the majestic Tales from the Underground to the recent, new and terrific Party Girl.
To quote Neil Young, Tom Ovans is “a lonely visitor”, from the days of the Greenwich Village to Nashville and now Austin, he is here to tell us the uncofortable truth: that life might be lonely, but there is always another match to strike. His music is the sound of a desperate blues, like Robert Johnson meeting Nick Drake. And more than that.

Here from a conversation I have had with Tom recently about his new album, "Party Girl" (for more infos about him, check here

I kind of really knew the sound I was looking for when I went in the studio to record Party Girl. When I was recording my previous album Honest Abe, which was done on a 4 track, I found myself really digging back deep into my street rock, folk and blues roots. Getting back to keeping it loose and really letting the feel of where the songs come from and where they want to go come through. I was getting back to a place where I hadn't been to in a long time. Recording by myself I just felt free to do what I do and not care about whether it made sense to anybody else. In fact I didn't even know I was recording an album when I was doing it. I thought I was just making some demos but some people, and the label heard it and we decided to release it as is. For me "Party Girl" is a kind of continuation of that album and rambling spirit except that it was recorded in a proper studio with other musicians. I made a conscious decision to find a small unknown studio and work with different people to push myself harder and get out of any comfort zone I might of fallen in. I was looking to make a kind of street rock record and I think that's what we did.
Working with Larry Chaney after all these years was a great experience. He's a great player and instinctively knows how to pick up on the feel of the songs and what I'm doing singing wise. As usual I made a point not to rehearse the band before we went in. Everybody just brought what they had to the table and we let it fly and walk the high wire. So we were actually capturing the songs at the moment of their recorded creation. It's just the way I've always like to work and I know Larry and most musicians I've worked with over the years really dig just laying it on the line and getting away from all of the bullshit that can happen around the making of a record.

"Both Sides of the Night" is a song that has been with me since I wrote it. I think it was back in the winter of '74 or '75. I was just a kid then living in a cheap hotel in Greenwich Village with a girl friend at the time, but she left headed for god knows where and I got this song. It's a song that has never left me and has been staring me in the face all these years. When I sing it I still feel and agree with every word. The song just fell in naturally with the rest of the songs on "Party Girl" and seems to nail the feel I was looking for on this album.
I have lots of songs from those New York City days and other periods that I've never had the chance to record. A friend of mind from that time '74, '75 had a band playing down at CBGB's trying to make it and his band use to take some of my songs and really punk them up. It was pretty cool for me to hear and made me think beyond what I was doing. I think they got as far as opening up for Television. I don't know what happen to them after that, we kind of lost track of each other.
A good song is a good song no matter when it was written. They're always alive throwing out sparks. Hopefully I'll have a chance to record more.

What's happening in America now has been coming down the pike for a long time. As bad as Bush & Company are they aren't the sole reason for the way things are going. It easy to point fingers and scream he's the one to blame. Lets get rid of him and everything will be cool again and we can go back to not caring. But our problems go much deeper than someone like Bush or Bin Ladin. It's our own humanity that we need to face. I mean what are we living for? Is it all for money, greed, ego? My god is bigger and more righteous than yours. What's driving all this fear and hatred. Why can't reasonable men and women sit down and have a conversation. What's happened? Everywhere you look somebodies on the edge of war. People being killed for what. There seems to be a sense out there of the inevitable.

It's all a mystery ain't it? I had a job driving a truck for awhile and I remember so many nights coming back into Austin from Houston and seeing these incredible Texas sunsets. All that color, beauty and mystery was enough to keep you going. I guess we all dig as deep as we need to. To find the meaning to keep going. I guess it's different for us all. I still believe in people. Most are working hard trying to do the right thing and shaking their heads at the world around them. For me and my music I just try to keep things in the moment cause that's where the magic is.It's interesting the two songs you've mentioned, "Rosalie" and "West Texas Blues", they both seem to be about getting back to something left behind. Maybe on some level we're all wandering through the desert, caught in the inferno, stumbling through the wasteland trying to get where ever the path takes us. Maybe it's the journey that keeps us going, maybe we're afraid if and when we stop it all ends. I think in some ways you've got to learn to embrace the darkness or else go crazy from the voodoo. Most times the questions are more interesting than the answers. One thing I know is that if Freddy Fender was still alive I would go and knock on his door and beg him most graciously to sing "Rosalie".

“Whiskey Jar” is the first new song I wrote for the album. It kind of became the anchor for the album. It's the kind of song that goes to a place where you find yourself sometime. Beyond dreams, beyond the edge of the blues. Mortality staring you in the face. That moment when night meets day. That drunken moment when you get glimpse of some half ass broken down truth. Songs like this I can't tell you where they come from. It's got nothing to do with songwriting. One moment you're just sitting there late at night playing guitar and in the next you have this song your singing.

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