David Shouse, best known as one of the frontmen for the Grifters, is the rare major figure in Memphis music whose work has no obvious local antecedent. You can point to Big Star's beautifully bent anglophilic pop if you're desperate, but Shouse's singular sound -- an atmospheric and arty mix of punk, prog, and glam-rock -- is largely a universe unto itself around these parts. And Shouse's latest project, The Bloodthirsty Lovers (self-released; Grade: A-), is clearly more an extension of his previous "side" project, Those Bastard Souls, than a continuation of the Grifters' sound.
When Shouse debuted the Lovers last December at Shangri-La Records' Christmas party, it also included Shelby Bryant (of the Clears and Cloud-Wow Music), Paul Taylor (DDT), and Jason Paxton (the Satyrs). The group is now down to Shouse, Taylor, and Paxton, but the record itself is basically a solo project.
Though it boasts several significant, fully formed songs such as "Take the Time" and "Sonic Letter to Sara Jean," The Bloodthirsty Lovers is a record in which rich, surprising soundscapes dominate. The opening "Telepathic," with its spare, crisp guitar, atmospheric organ buzz, and brief, percussive vocals, could be a Radiohead outtake from Kid A or Amnesiac. Even more interesting are tracks that might be Shouse's own version of soul music: The two-minute instrumental "Data Punk," despite its title, might be the greatest melding of drum-and-bass and slinky '80s R&B in indie-rock history, while the funky bass line and hip-hop-worthy drum beat that lead off "Transgression No. 9" establish the song's worth as the "underground dance mix" Shouse mentions in the lyrics.
And if any of that scares you off, cue up track four, "2,000 Light Years From Home," and luxuriate in the kind of soaring art-rock anthem longtime fans have grown accustomed to -- the kind of song that, when Shouse sings of "waves of radiation tearing at my soul," could very well be self-referential. All in all, this has to be the most exciting "new band" to hit town in quite a while.
Shouse is still label-shopping the project right now, but copies should be available at Shangri-La or at Bloodthirsty Lovers shows. (The Bloodthirsty Lovers will be playing Friday, March 1st, with Tristeza, at the Young Avenue Deli.)
Fans weary of waiting for Lucero's sophomore album (which should surface sometime in the next few months) might want to bide time with Eight Paces to Jackson (Landmark Records; Grade: B), an eight-song, 31-minute collection of acoustic music the band recorded in 1999 as the soundtrack to a student film directed by lead singer Ben Nichols' brother. Released by the Little Rock-based Landmark Records, Eight Paces to Jackson contains only two full, vocal-based songs (both fairly negligible) and is clearly marginalia but boasts some considerable charms. Joined by violin player Carrie Lamprecht, the band cuts a joyful swath through the ragged bluegrass of "Tennessee Mountain Stomp" and the gentle "Tennessee Stomp Refrain."
Chances are if you've been in Memphis for more than two weeks you've laid your eyes on Lamar Sorrento's wonderful, ubiquitous, and often blues-inspired paintings. Well, now you can hear the local artist laying down some blues-inspired, '60s-style rock with his band The Mod Saints. On Reverse English (self-released; Grade: B), the band's seven-song debut, Sorrento is joined by local recording-studio maven Doug Easley and one-time Big Star rhythm section John Lightman and Richard Rosebrough for a set of mostly original songs (the traditional blues "John the Revelator" being the only exception). The nine-minute opener, "Wicked Son," transports you back to the Fillmore, where acid-rock guitar solos and organ grooves stretch on for minutes, the stomping blues-rock rhythms never let up, and, as a later song notes, "Everybody likes to shake their ass/Everybody likes to toke some grass." After that the songs get slightly shorter and the styles vary even more slightly. "Adios to Loving You" has vague echoes of CCR, while "Run Like the Devil" adds a bit of boogie-woogie.
Put together by local label Inside Sounds, The Instrumental Memphis Music Sampler (Inside Sounds; Grade: B) collection of (mostly previously released) cuts is exactly what the title implies and is diverse enough to provide at least a few tracks that any music fan will enjoy -- as well as one or two that most will want to skip.
This sampler boasts plenty of lite jazz and new age, neither among my favorite musical flavors, but that's not all. Personal favorites would have to be the idiosyncratic "Edwin's Memphis Blues," from the late Edwin Hubbard, and Beale Street organ king Charlie Wood's homage to Booker T. and the MGs with his cool-jazz take on "Green Onions." Other standout tracks include the saxophone-powered contemporary jazz of Carl Wolfe on "Talkin' Stuff," renowned harmonica player Pete Pederson's "Pictures Of a Woman," the previously unreleased "Come By the House," a jazz-rock jam from FreeWorld, and "Darkness As the Noonday," a gentle acoustic-guitar closer from William Lee Ellis.
Classic (Reliant Gospel; Grade: B+) is a compilation of tracks spanning the gospel career of DeWitt Johnson, an accomplished former Nashvillian who is now resident choir leader at the local Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ, where he performs with the church's Voices of Bountiful Blessings Choir. This is old-school gospel: The raw, soaring voices and churchy piano chords are so invigorating you can get off on it even if you don't identify with the particular religious sentiments being expressed. The live feel of the recordings here can be as distancing as they are intimate, but when Johnson's lead vocals cut through the din, you'll feel it.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org