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Tom Moran of The Five returns with oud in hand

"I sat in with a local band and all of a sudden there were belly dancers there, and I thought, ‘I get it now!'"

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He gets it now: Tom Moran
  • He gets it now: Tom Moran

Tom Moran was almost done building his first oud — the stringed instrument used primarily in Arabic and Turkish music — when something occurred to him: "I better learn how to play this." 

"So," he explains, "I started investigating Arabic music using a fretless banjo, because there's a certain commonality between some banjo tunings and some oud tunings." He recorded his investigations, which combined the traditional music with his knowledge of Appalachian folk music and what could be considered a touch of dramatic spaghetti Western soundtracks. It was only when a friend asked for a sample that he realized his five years of at-home tinkering made a cohesive album. This weekend he releases it as the instrumental Oud Music for Snake Handlers.

Moran, who played guitar with local punks The Five and country-folk band The Deliberate Strangers, moved into another performance realm with the oud when he began accompanying belly dancers. "I sat in with a local band and all of a sudden there were belly dancers there," he says. "And I thought, ‘I get it now! This is dance music!' I never really paid attention to that kind of stuff before." 

It's a far cry from The Five's early-'80s heyday, he jokes, when "you sort of counted success by compound fractures and trips to the E.R. for the audience members. This was completely different." In addition to opening sets for artists like Malian vocalist Sidi Toure, Moran is now just as likely to accompany a belly dancer at a private party. In one case he even performed at a high school prom.

Like the Oud Music CD, his live-performance arsenal includes three different ouds, electric sitar, banjo and 12-string electric guitar. For the release show, Moran will play a solo set and in a duo with Rich Ermlick, who accompanies him on doumbek, frame drum and percussion. Dancers, including regular collaborator Patrice Langford, will perform along with them. Moran says he has to stay faithful to traditional maqams, the song structure of this music. But he has no highbrow illusion about what he does. "I try to play by the rules," he says with trademark wryness. "But I grew up in Shaler listening to Led Zeppelin, you know? Cut me some slack."


TOM MORAN CD RELEASE with STEPHANIE VARGO. 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 14. $5. Zafira Dance Studios, 1113 E. Carson St. (second floor), South Side. 412-421-5240

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