This Week in the Mercury

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bob Desper's Old, New Sounds

Posted by Ned Lannamann on Fri, Dec 18, 2009 at 10:40 AM

Blind folk guitarist Bob Desper was raised in Albany, Oregon, and in his early 20s he relocated to Eagle Creek, an unincorporated area that's on the road to Estacada. He released the New Sounds LP in 1974 on the Rose City Sound label, a short-lived local imprint that was a spinoff project of the sound and lighting company that's still around today. They primarily released gospel and Christian records, and New Sounds was sold at churches and Christian bookstores in the Portland area. Over the years, Desper's record has acquired a cult status among record collectors worldwide. There are even reports of a copy of it selling for over $1000, but this seems ridiculous to me. At any rate, the record has been circulating among fans of obscure "loner" and "downer" folk for years, but local vinyl imprint Discourage Records has just re-released New Sounds for a new crop of listeners.


Bob Desper - "It's Too Late"

The New Sounds reissue seems primarily aimed at collectors, boasting a facsimile of the original release and a bonus seven-inch with the first 1000 copies. The album warrants its reputation, and while it's not anything that'll re-contextualize local music history, it's definitely an interesting listen. Desper performs solo, with just a voice and a Martin guitar; he's a very fluid, capable guitarist and his voice bears a heavy tint of his reported admiration of Elvis Presley. The songs have a religious slant, but they don't mention Jesus explicitly. They're more along the line of that paranoid zeitgeist particular to the early '70s: "The world is crazy, man, people just don't understand, man." That is not an actual lyric, but this is: "Searching for reality, but they're too blind to see." There's a lot of talk about people not being able to see, which is fair enough coming from a blind dude. It's a marginal period piece, but a charming one.

The album comes paired with a reissue of Desper's 1972 seven-inch, "Dry Up Those Tears"/"The World Is Crying Out for Love." Desper is really obsessed with eyes and/or crying. (There's also a song on the LP called "Don't You Cry for Me.") On the seven-inch, Desper is backed by some other musicians, which softens his bummer-folk sound into gentle balladry.

Discourage has done a kickass job with this reissue, including a large insert with comprehensive liner notes and a very authentic tip-on style album cover. Order it here.


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