As more indie and punk bands from the 1990s reform in the 2010s, fans have a right to be skeptical, or, at the very least, cautious. This seems particularly apt with a band like the Oblivians, whose essential charm was rooted in a drunken, sweaty ineptitude that placed blood, guts and mangled blues over pure technique and musicianship. How do you recreate such intense, chaotic moments when, chances are, you can’t even remember them?
In the case of the Oblivians’ excellent new album on In the Red — the trio’s first in 16 years — apparently they don’t even bother to recollect. Jack Yarber, Greg Cartwright and Eric Friedl have all had notable careers since the dissolution of the band and, particularly in the case of Yarber and Cartwright, developed into truly skilled players. Yarber has carved himself a nice niche as a reliable purveyor of well-crafted trad-rock that mines the barrooms, pawn shops, and back alleys of the South for inspiration. He plays the classic foil to Cartwright, who has slowly built a name for himself as one of the finest songwriters in America, whether as a behind-the-scenes ace for the likes of Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las or as the main man of the mighty Reigning Sound. Friedl, to his credit, has put in time with several Memphis punk one-offs, including Bad Times (with Jay Reatard), The Dutch Masters, The Legs, and band-as-weeknight-drinking-club The True Sons of Thunder. He’s also developed Goner Records from a smalltime operation into one of the more respected indie labels around (to say nothing of the store of the same name).