Certainly Too Much Love qualifies as a masterpiece on those levels. On unrelated business, I happened upon the artists in the studio in August, 2003, while they were recording the disc, and they imbued an overwhelmingly understated aura both in demeanor and attitude, giving no notice of the fine tunes they had just recorded. They didnt seem like they were working on next years coup, the likes of which most musicians could only dream upon achieving. No, in fact, they seemed as if the coffee werent quite right that day, and perhaps the weather may have been a bit too hot, or maybe they werent quite sure why they were there in Easley/McCain Studios that day or why they were putting such painfully open emotions on tape for posteritys sake.
Harlan T. Bobos apparition in Memphis is still a puzzle to me. We dont get too many drifters through here anymore (Must have been much cheaper in the 60s and 70s). Chris Davis did a masterful job in the Flyer back in the spring explaining the intricacies of the hows and whys of the love web that caused this recording to need to be made. I cannot possibly understand the situation (nor do I care or need to). Suffice to say, Bobos pain is the listeners joy.
The closest this record comes to sounding like a Memphis record is the ditty Mr. Last Week, which hints at Gamblin Days Are Over by Compulsive Gamblers, a fine slice of Memphis music culture as there has been in the last fifteen years. I could argue for this record having been made in Arizona (pseudo-border influence) or California (a general Tom Waits flavor). Beyond the number listed above, this bad boy could have been recorded in any town or studio across the U.S. It is not a Memphis record in sound nor style, but it certainly is a Memphis record in its complete non-Memphisness. The primary artist, Mr. Harlan T. Bobo, had previously been known mostly as a member of another fine Memphis band, American Death Ray, a Velvet Underground cum Tav Falco noise racket. So a side player in a relatively unknown Memphis band makes the best record of the year? Perfect for Memphis.
What major label had the audacity to release such an unknown gem? Um, actually, not the case! Surely then, some hip Memphis independent label (Makeshift, Soul is Cheap, Madjack, Archer, Yellowdawg, LamarÉ) had the foresight to release this jewel and hope that the unsuspecting public would buy a great record by a guy who couldnt possibly be expected to tour because his other band never really had? Uh, no, it didnt play that way either. Harlan T. Bobo released the record in the oldest of old school ways: printing up a couple at a time, hoping the record stores would carry them and not throw them in the dollar bin three years later--unsold and consignment period expired. Bobo even included individually created artwork on each cd he pressed out, further increasing the mystique of the record and giving the cds an unusually unique quality.
Adding further to the Memphisness of the record is the fact that it is (virtually) unobtainable. Two weeks before Christmas, the disc is available in no store, no Amazon, no Ebay, no Overstock.com, no distributors, no nothing. Its our little secret here in Memphis. Total market failure or just a typical Memphis thang? Perhaps that just adds to the mystery and majesty of the ordeal.
The good news is that Bobos back from Europe with his other band, and he is house-sitting a la Jeff Buckley at the Hi Tone every Monday night in December (and looks like the first two in January as well!). The songs are show-stoppers that will outlive all of us, and you will be glad you went, especially since it is the only way to hear the songs these days (outside of WEVL). A great treat for a cold month ahead.
If you were bad this year, Harlan T. Bobos Too Much Love will be coming down your chimney. Pray that you were bad.