Second to None

Looking for a little manic melancholy? Harlan T. Bobo's your man.



Harlan T. Bobo's homecrafted debut album, Too Much Love, took the city's underground music scene by storm in 2004. Known as a sideman for Midtown-based indie-rock bands such as Viva L'American Death Ray Music and the Limes, Bobo was a fixture, but few suspected he had it in him to be a songwriter/performer on a par with scene stalwarts such as the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright, the Tearjerkers' Jack Yarber, and Lucero's Ben Nichols.

Yet Too Much Love — an intimate, lovelorn meditation on romantic obsession and complication — seemed all of that and more. In an informal Memphis Flyer poll of local critics and rock-scene insiders the next year, it was named best local record of the half-decade.

In other words, following up such a cult triumph is a tall order. Three years later, Bobo has taken a swing at it. Released this summer on local label Goner (as Too Much Love was, after an initial round of hand-distribution on Bobo's part), Bobo's second proper solo album, I'm Your Man, is notable for its refusal to merely rehash what worked so well on the previous record.

For better or worse — and I'd say it's a bit of both — I'm Your Man is most definitely not Too Much Love 2. The earlier record was a readily graspable concept album, dripping in a seductive romantic melancholy. The record couldn't help but encourage a similar type of melancholy indulgence on the part of its fans, a dynamic that Bobo — perhaps to his credit — apparently began to view with some skepticism, based on comments he made in interviews upon the release of I'm Your Man.

On I'm Your Man, Bobo seems to be thinking hard about the roots and limitations of the romantic messiness that made his first album so popular. On the standout "Pragmatic Woman," a confession morphs into self-realization in chain-linked lyrics: "A girl with pixie dust in her eyes excites a part of me/A part of me that likes being alone/Is better left alone." Bobo finally arrives at a conclusion that seems in counterpoint to Too Much Love's elevation of romantic turmoil: "A pragmatic woman's the only woman [that'll] make a good man of me."

The new record lacks the intensity of focus that animates Too Much Love. Where Bobo's debut was about one relationship, the new record takes a broader view of the artist's life. And nothing on his sophomore effort can touch the clarity of low-key local classics such as Too Much Love's "Bottle and Hotel" and "Left the Door Unlocked." But Bobo's new record is likely growth initially disguised as a minor step back. On repeated listens, Bobo's slowed-down, space-age honky-tonk (with hints of Beatlesque pop) provides a sturdy backdrop for a stirring, funny, self-possessed collection of songs, from the opening hymn-of-declaration title song to the humorously regretful ruminations of "My Life" ("I'm considering adopting myself a puppy," Bobo muses at one point) and "So Bad?" ("So your girlfriends get more sex than you?/I've seen the boys your girls go with/That's all they get/I wouldn't feel so blue").

*****

On the Make

Bobo is one of the reigning deans of the city's Midtown-based indie-rock scene, but there's plenty more going on. One good introduction is

Makeshift #5

, the latest compilation from local record label/collective Makeshift Music

For seven years now, Makeshift has been documenting the city's indie-rock world with a series of compilations. The label's focus now may be on putting out full-length records from individual artists, but Makeshift began as a compilation label (2000's The First Broadcast), and this series is still central to the label's identity.

The 22-track, roughly 75-minute Makeshift 5 is a benefit for the Church Health Center, which provides health care to uninsured Memphians, many of them musicians, presumably many of them on this compilation.

Makeshift 5 doesn't stray as far afield of the label's Midtown indie-rock foundation as some past compilations and, perhaps as a result, might be the most consistent Makeshift sampler: It doesn't peak as high as past mixes but also generally doesn't bottom out as low.

One perhaps accidental feature here is that, despite Makeshift's status as a vehicle for developing or introducing new artists, many of the standout tracks here come from musicians whose local bona fides predate Makeshift's existence by many years.

The forcefully grimy indie rock of "Excuses" comes from Dragoon, which is made up of members of classic regional '90s bands the Grifters and Trusty (a Little Rock outfit I saw at the old Antenna club as a high-schooler in the early '90s). Nineties-born comeback band the Subteens offer the rousing rocker "Never Gonna Happen." Reformed local punk institution Pezz (another bunch of Antenna vets) is back with "Pimp Caesar." Susan Marshall, whose major-label break with Mother Station dates a decade-and-a-half ago, contributes the sharp alt-country torch song "Arkabutla." Even the Secret Service, who kick things off with the typically ripping, roaring rocker "Outsiders," could count, seeing as how the band is in part a vehicle for the guitar fireworks of former Big Ass Trucker Steve Selvidge.

Which doesn't mean the young spate of more Makeshift-identified acts don't make their mark. Excellent Makeshift bands the Coach & Four and Third Man are sadly M.I.A., but the Snowglobe family makes an appearance in three forms — with the full band "Blue," with Makeshift founder Brad Postlethwaite's melodic new-wave, acoustic-built gem "Particles Locked in a Chain," and with Tim Regan's Antenna Shoes' "Singer." Other highlights include Cory Branan's playful "Muhammad Ali (And Me)" and the debut of Paul Taylor and Amy LaVere as a credited duo on the trippy yet rootsy "Embrace the Cosmos." 

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