It's nearly impossible to imagine Harlan T. Bobo in a Santa Claus costume. Lonelyhearts like me tend to associate the tender, clownish Bobo with Valentine's Day. The scarred and broken lyrics that comprise his 2004 solo debut Too Much Love serve as the perfect unrequited love letter, a missive that gets crumpled underfoot before it ever reaches its intended destination. But awhile ago -- "eight, nine, 10 years ago," he claims in the liner notes -- Bobo recruited nearly a dozen friends to record Merry Christmas Spaceman, a collection of 19 Christmas songs, including carols such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night," popular secular tunes such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "The Little Drummer Boy," and a spontaneous remake of "Auld Lang Syne" retitled "Old Angst Ien."
Bobo holds the spirits of avant-garde composers Carl Stallings and Moondog hostage on ludicrous renditions of "Sleigh Bells" (reincarnated here as a James Bond theme) and "We Three Kings," which reverberates with bongo beats, xylophone medleys, and shimmering guitar notes. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" fades away as soon as it's begun, but the jazzy romp "Let It Snow" and a militaristic "Little Drummer Boy" quickly restore equilibrium.
These songs reveal a more lighthearted side to Bobo's personality, one that's happy to sip cocoa and tack up strands of twinkling red-and-green lights, even as he entangles the holiday spirit with spacey sound effects.
Originally intended as a Christmas card for friends (but never sent), Bobo burned a few dozen copies of Merry Christmas Spaceman to sell at his gigs and local retail outlets like Goner and Shangri-La, helping to tide fans over until Bobo's next album, recorded at Young Avenue Sound, hits stores sometime next year.
Harlan T. Bobo performs Saturday, December 24th, at the Buccaneer, with the Preacher's Kids.
We haven't even sealed the time capsule for 2005, but, boy, does 2006 look good: New releases from locals like Amy LaVere, The Gamble Brothers Band, and former Memphian Garrison Starr are already scheduled to come down the pike.
LaVere, an accomplished bassist and actress (she portrays Wanda Jackson in Walk the Line) has always been perceived as a steely, stalwart performer; here, producer Paul Taylor captures her more delicate side. Recorded by Kevin Houston for Archer Records, with a full house of musicians -- including Jim Dickinson on piano, Tony Thomas on accordian, guitarists Jason Freeman and Jimbo Mathus, and drummer Paul Buchignani -- LaVere sounds absolutely in her environment as she croons about love lost and found. Mark your calendar for Sunday, January 15th, when LaVere and her group The Tramps will celebrate the release of This World Is Not My Home at Tsunami.
The Gamble Brothers Band's Continuator, which was cut at Ardent with Jeff Powell at the helm, is another matter entirely. The boisterous album, slated for release on Archer Records in mid-February, furthers this city's horn-driven R&B tradition, melding Beatles-esque pop harmonies with a funky, guitarless backdrop. Singer/organist Al Gamble's warm tenor is perfectly suited for pop pleas like "E. Parkway Rundown" and "Threw It All Away." File Continuator between The Bo-Keys' Royal Sessions and Big Ass Truck's Kent or keep it in rotation along with Inside Sounds' two-CD series Fried Glass Onions: Memphis Meets the Beatles, which further documents the overseas connection.
Starr's new one, The Sound of You and Me, will be released on Vanguard Records on March 13th. Also slated for '06: new albums from Jim Dickinson (who just inked a deal with Memphis International Records for an upcoming release, tentatively titled Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger) and Dan Montgomery, plus a new Bo-Keys single on Memphix.
Meanwhile, Matador Records is releasing Cat Power's new album, The Greatest, on January 24th. Recorded at Ardent last fall, The Greatest features a who's who of Memphis greats, including brothers Teenie and Flick Hodges on guitar and bass, drummer Steve Potts, bassist Dave Smith, pedal-steel player Doug Easley, violinist Roy Brewer, cellist Jonathan Kirkscey, saxophonist Jim Spake, trumpeter Scott Thompson, and keyboard player Rick Steff. Rumor has it that a handful of these musicians have been tapped for Cat Power's stateside and European tour dates, slated to begin early next year.