Tom Ovans - Tombstone Boys & Graveyard Girls


Now that's better. Pies saving the blues. I heartily endorse that course of action.



This is a tough old album. Its demeanour is tough, the lyrical content is tough, even the cover is tough. Tom appears on the cover, bedecked in street garb, holding what at first looked like a pencil sharpener, but turned out, on closer inspection, (and appropriately enough), to be a mouth organ. Photographs of tombs cover the rest of the album. Yep this is one hard life. Well you'd been disappointed if, after perusing all this, the music turned out to be like Scissor Sisters, wouldn't you? It doesn't.


At this point I have to admit that I didn't expect to like it. I'm not much of a one for blues, you see. But there are some great things on it. A growling chord sequence introduces us to "Before I'm Dead"; as slow a burner of majestic intent as I've heard in many a summer. "Blues 4 Lenny" is in a similarly grumpy vein. It's an insistent, uncompromising blues lick, rarely going out of its way to curry favour. Hell, though, it's bloody appealing. The backing vocals give a light tone or two now and again. "It's Hard" gives lyrical vent to Ovans' wanderings. During a strolling blues you get a running commentary, not without humour I'll think you'll agree.


"I've seen a thousand saviours go by, a hundred times as many followers raving about some new kind of inner peace, I've seen drunks sleeping in hotel beds waiting to die, young kids in suburbs smashing their Christmas toys, college girls spending their money on some local loser..."


"Great Big Lie" is a slow moving super confident hobo sloth of a song. The music is lazy and arrogant, possessing an almost imperial droit de seigneur.


Things start to flag in the middle section of the album; "Revolution", despite a choral refrain of considerable charm, over does it on the harmonicas. The sad thing is you couldn't really be allowed to have a song like this without harmonica accompaniment . The same can be said of the title track "Tombstone Boys, Graveyard Girls". Harmonica, and the repeated use of the word "man" are, shall we say, the staple feature, the comfort blanket, the ever present, the safe pair of hands. I'm sorry, I don't like this song. It just doesn't do enough to charm me out of thinking 'oh, blues record'. And there are a lot of those.  

"Tupelo" is a sob story that rankles, because, again it's pretty much what you'd expect. You could sing it without even hearing it, if you know what I mean. It also mentions the word "daddy", which I dislike.


At this point I was thinking, 'oh shit, I'm getting bored'. I'm not one for blues, as I've said, and I had four songs to go. Listening to "Standing in the Rain" in this context was a great tonic. A great, insistent grumble of a song. None of that cloying gruff sentimentality I fucking hate about blues music. Rather, it gets on with what Ovans is good at, caustic observation. "South to Alabama" is better still, a steady footstomp with bloody funny lyrics. Get a load of this, pop pickers;


"Going to see my baby, yes I am

She's going to give me what I need

She's going to give me a great big feed

Chess pie, cherry pie

She's the apple of my eye"


Now that's better. Pies saving the blues. I heartily endorse that course of action. The mood lightens and we can all stop wringing our hands. "Maria" goes to show what a softy Ovans is (they all are these blues guys, big bleeding hearts the lot of them). A simple sparse love song walks just on the right side of being mawkish. "Racine" is the closing track, and  in many ways the best on the album. An apologia of sorts, it's got a real presence to it, never allowing itself to become too bluesy or maudlin.

So, there you are. Interesting, I have to say, and a pleasant surprise, (that stops me from being too smug anyway). Let's have more songs about pies, too.


Words : Richard Foster