Great songwriting with a strong Dylan influence.
It’s probably fair to say that Tom Ovans has lived a full life, and this album, with its raw, unvarnished feel sounds as though it comes from someone who has experienced life’s ups and downs. Originally from a working-class neighbourhood in Boston, he left in his teens and initially lived in many different places across the US. He has lived in cheap hotels, on friends’ floors, in abandoned apartments and even on the street. He stayed in Nashville for 18 years, taking on many unglamorous jobs to pay the bills, and played in bars in the evenings. Now living in Austin, Texas, this is his fifteenth album, with previous albums gaining critics’ praise.
On first listening, you are struck by how like Bob Dylan he sounds. His voice is very like Dylan’s, as is the music, which is mostly the sort of folk-blues that Dylan produced. Many tracks use just an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, although there is electric slide guitar on some of the more bluesy tracks and some vocal harmonies. Ovans plays and sings all the songs alone. The similarity to Dylan is initially disconcerting, but that fades on repeated listens as you get to know the songs and see how good his songwriting is. The songs have an earthy, primal feel to them and although there is not a great variety in the tracks, the strength of the songwriting makes the album an enjoyable listen.
The lively opener ‘The Cure’, like many of the songs, looks back at relationships from the past:
“And if she ever loved me /I’ll never know for sure/Cause I love the pain too much/To ever take the cure”
It sounds as if it could have come from ‘Blood On The Tracks’ as do other tracks such as ‘Higher Ground’ and the particularly catchy ‘Gonna Miss You’. In this, as in many other tracks, even the lyrics have a Dylanesque feel. However, ‘Looking In Your Eyes’ is a touching love song in the present: “Looking in your eyes /I can see myself/ Like you see me/ Like nobody else”
Ovans also uses his rambling experiences to write a number of songs such as ‘Lazy Driver’ and ‘Camille and The Dance Of Death’. ‘The Ballad Of a Bloody Nose’, about being attacked after not leaving a tip in a bar sounds as though it relates to personal experience, too. This stands out as being more like a playful Woodie Guthrie, with Ovans starting the song by urging an imaginary band to record one last song, in the hope that it will appeal to a younger audience.
You are likely to like this album if you like Bob Dylan at all. Ovans’ previous 14 albums have also been re-released and would be well worth investigating.