CD Reviews for 5/06/08 – Quickies from Memphis

Compact Capsules for 05/06/08
by Dan Ferguson

If you’re a Boudin Barndance regular, you know Memphis music has been occupying a more and more prominent spot. Aside from being a pretty cool record store (and very Memphis-centric web site, to boot), Goner Records ( out of Memphis also has their own in-house record label devoted mostly to releasing Memphis-based acts. A few recent releases have really caught the ear of yours truly, not to mention finding their way onto the playlist. Here we go.

Only residing in Memphis for about a decade now, Harlan T. Bobo is a Memphis underground legend of sorts and a listen or two to his two Goner releases and you’ll quickly understand why. Released in 2004, Too Much Love is an understated gem of a breakup record. For lack of a better description, let’s call it country minus any of the b.s. trappings. It’s low key and the hurt in Harlan’s heart is all over it’s nine tracks. Bobo, in quiet voice, eloquently recalls those little things specific to a special relationship, those good times and all the little ins and outs that gnaw at one’s heart when it’s over. This is personal stuff! You might be thinking that all the world needs is another breakup album. You know what? We can’t resist them because we’ve all been there and felt the pain. You need this breakup record.

Late 2007 saw Bobo’s follow-up to Too Much Love, a highly recommended album called I’m Your Man. Judging by the title alone, Bobo has recovered from the travails of Too Much Love. Frankly, he is very much in a f*ck off, over-the-breakup frame of mind. Equally as personal as its predecessor, this one snarls and saunters with Bobo still trying to sort out his life. Muscially, the album also follows that tact mixing noisy rockers with subdued sounds leaning towards country. Favorite cut? The pedal steel subtlety of “Sick of It All” on which Bobo tries to convince his damsel that what they have really is a good thing (“So your girlfriends get more sex than you / I’ve seen the boys the girls go with, that’s all they get / Wouldn’t feel so blue”). In other words, a perfect love song on a near perfect record.

How do you describe Ross Johnson? Don’t bother. He’s indescribable. Spoken word rants, rockabilly, surf, insane rockers, Make It Stop! The Most of Ross Johnson covers all the stops along the career path of this certified Memphis wacko. At first listen some may say the 24 tracks are the stuff of career destruction, but when you get right down to it that just may be its true appeal. If you went the resume, drumming for Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, collaborating with Peter Buck of REM fame (the group Our Favorite Band of which three tracks from 1983 are featured on Make It Stop!), and appearing on Alex Chilton’s late-70s solo album Like Flies On Sherbert adds up to some pretty decent credentials. A collection definitely for the adventurous types, the recommendation for virgin listeners to the Johnson opus is to first read the meaty and extremely informative booklet that comes with the collection. Featuring essays from Johnson himself, renowned Memphis-based writer Robert Gordon (of It Came From Memphis fame), and local Memphis music scribes John Floyd and Andria Lisle, it provides the complete skinny on this crazed cat. It’s also the perfect primer for the 24 tracks that lie within.

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)<...