News » Cover Feature

More Than Mafia

Harlan T. Bobo and eight others round out our Local Music Poll Top 10.

comment

2. Harlan T. Bobo

Harlan T. Bobo sings about the creepy things we all wish we could do: Break into our ex's home and rifle through the drawers, searching for signs of an unfulfilled life. It's a depressing, almost inadmissible thought -- the sinister type that sneaks into your brain after too many whiskeys -- but as anyone who's loved and lost will attest, it's also universal.

"Harlan adds a little sugar to the medicine," says bassist Jeremy Scott, who backs Bobo on his debut album, Too Much Love, and its as-yet-untitled follow-up, recorded over the last 12 months. "He combines these relatively simple folk melodies with really dark, subconscious thoughts, bringing those screwed-up feelings to the forefront in a way that sounds more soothing."

In a town where groups like Lucero and the Reigning Sound have ruled the indie scene by cashing in on similar broken-heart sentiments, Bobo threatens to break the bank. Today, he's still riding the wave of his self-released Too Much Love -- Goner Records, which reissued the disc last year, re-invigorated the market by pressing a vinyl edition for Valentine's Day -- even as he's putting the finishing touches on his next album, partially recorded at Young Avenue Sound.

This spring, Bobo made some of his first forays out of town as a solo act, strapping on his angel wings for an appearance at South By Southwest and accompanying Lucero on a southeastern U.S. tour.

At the Austin club Beerland, where he performed as part of Goner's SXSW showcase, Bobo searched for salvation amidst a crowd of sweaty punk and garage rockers who'd assembled to catch more frenetic acts like the Final Solutions and the Leather Uppers. It was the audio equivalent of shooting a speed freak full of methadone, the audience sinking into a spellbound stupor as Bobo, with Paul Buchignani providing a backbeat, spun his lovesick yarns to a captive room.

One fan approached the merch booth, boasting that Too Much Love had saved his marriage. "Let me fix that," Bobo joked, although he seemed genuinely taken aback by the notion. After all, the album was largely inspired by the demise of the relationship with his own muse, Yvonne Bobo.

"From the time we first met, Harlan seems like he's really trying to get comfortable in his own skin," Scott says. "As his playing has gotten better and he's become more accustomed to being the front guy, he's gotten more assured. He's still writing a few new songs, but I think the new record is 98 percent done."

Local fans are already salivating over the thought of a new album. In the meantime, however, he seems content plying his trade as the lead Luv Clown, a kid-friendly group that features Tim Prudhomme, Alex Greene, and Doug Easley, playing to local audiences at Midtown watering holes with Scott and Buchignani, or poking gentle fun at himself as a beleaguered, desperate man. -- Andria Lisle

Voter comments:

Bobo injects his performances with a kind of subtle theatricality that most acts would reject as schlock but that Bobo understands is not just showmanship but an important element in conveying a pop song's inherent drama. -- Mark Jordan

His shows are lively and unpredictable: Sometimes you get vaudeville, sometimes you get clown, and sometimes you just get singer-songwriter. The pleasure that his performances and his album, Too Much Love, have given to other people frequently seems lost on Harlan himself. But I have to believe that, deep inside, he is smiling widely at all of the attention his work has gotten and all of the joy he and his efforts consistently bring to local audiences. -- E.J. Friedman

I'm not exactly going out on a limb here. Harlan's record Too Much Love is a classic. If you live in Memphis and haven't seen him live, you should be ashamed of yourself. -- Rachel Hurley

Next local show: Nothing scheduled at press time

3. Lucero

When bands sign with major record labels, the relationship seems more likely to produce horror stories than contentment and success. But the cautious approach seems to be working out for Lucero, which signed a deal with Warner Bros.' EastWest Records more than a year ago.

The band's EastWest debut, Nobody's Darlings, has been out less than a year and has already outsold the band's previous bestseller, That Much Further West, which had a two-year head start.

"I think the label wishes it sold more," admits guitarist Brian Venable, "but we'll settle for what it did and be tickled to death."

Venable says the band has noticed a difference on the road, as well, where they've been selling out Newby's-sized venues across the country while taking local artists such as Cory Branan, the Glass, and Harlan T. Bobo on the road with them.

"This is the first tour we've had where we're selling lots of advance tickets," Venable says.

That success has the band scaling back its notoriously dense touring schedule.

"What we're trying to do is have more impact with the tours instead of just going out for 200 days [like we used to]," Venable says. "We probably didn't do 150 days this year. Now with EastWest, we actually have records in stores and a little bit more focus. We're doing fewer shows, but they seem to be bigger shows."

The band is currently getting ready to record their follow-up to Nobody's Darlings. And for the first time, they'll leave the Memphis area to record, heading to Virginia to work with David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) at his Richmond studio.

"We've got six complete songs and a few others that are partly done," Venable says. "We leave May 20th. By June 4th, we hope to have a recorded, mixed, and mastered record."

The new record is likely to be released in September or early October and could mark a departure for the group.

"Nobody's Darlings is nice and raw, but this one will probably be -- when you say 'more produced,' that makes people get a funny look on their face -- but we're going to put some more keyboards and overdubs. Some acoustic guitars on top of stuff. We want to take our time and make it more fleshed-out, I guess." -- Chris Herrington

Voter comments:

The night before I received this ballot, Lucero packed a(nother) New Daisy-sized crowd into Young Avenue Deli. They can do this whenever they desire; in fact, aside from the North Mississippi Allstars, I think they're the only local rock act that can say that. They're probably still prying people out from between [the Deli's] arcade-game consoles. -- Jeremy Scott

Who tours more and plays harder with no radio play and sells out venues coast to coast? No Memphis band is doing it better. -- George Bogy

I always enjoy Lucero.

-- Justin Fox Burks

Next local show: Nothing scheduled at press time

p._26_music_top_10_1.jpg

4. Alicja Trout (River City Tanlines/Black Sunday/Mouse Rocket)

Imagine if you will a triple bill at your favorite local rock club: The opening band (Mouse Rocket) plays pure, poppy garage rock and straightforward indie rock. The next band (Black Sunday) darkens the tone with moody, new-wavish alt-rock that reminds you a little of a great, broken-up local band you miss so much (Lost Sounds). Finally, the last band (River City Tanlines) blows the door off the club with raw, energetic, thrashy rock-and-roll. If you're a rock fan, it wouldn't get much better than that. But what would be particularly notable is that each band would be fronted by the same person: Alicja Trout.

As far as I know, that lineup has never actually occurred, but Trout juggles her disparate-but-equally-rewarding musical projects with such aplomb that I wouldn't put it past her.

Trout admits to sometimes getting her different musical personalities crossed. "Sometimes I make a mistake and put [a song] with one band and wish I had it with the other band," Trout says. "[But] with the Tanlines, we're getting to the point where I just bring an idea and some scratched-down words and we develop the songs at our practices. A good portion of the Tanlines songs are written together. With Black Sunday, we don't practice as much, so I'm still bringing the songs pretty much finished."

The Tanlines seem to have emerged as Trout's most popular band of late, at least locally, and they'll take center stage this summer. After returning from her current tour with Black Sunday, Trout will take the Tanlines into her home studio, Tronic Graveyard, to record their second album, which is scheduled for release this September on Dirtnap, the same label that released both of Trout's 2005 CD releases, the Tanlines' All the Seven Inches Plus Two More and Black Sunday's Tronic Blanc. The Tanlines will hit Europe in September as well, returning home at the end of the month to play the local Goner Fest. -- CH

Voter comments:

It wouldn't be a Memphis "best of" list without perennial powerhouse Alicja Trout. While her music may not appeal to a wide audience, her presence and function in Memphis music as something of an underground icon is undeniable. In a single week, Trout might be found playing up to three or four shows with any one of her active bands. If that's not vital, I don't know what is.

-- Rachel Drinkard

I'm convinced she's found a way to clone herself. How else could she be able to handle so many bands and projects simultaneously, let alone her own mail-order business? Would that everyone had her energy. She can play a mean guitar too. -- Jeremy Scott

Next local show: Mouse Rocket plays Murphy's Friday, May 12th. River City Tanlines play the Buccaneer Friday, May 19th. Black Sunday plays the Hi-Tone Café Thursday, May 25th.

5. Brad Postlethwaite

As a name long synonymous with the Makeshift label in both proprietary and artistic capacities and as a founding member of Snowglobe, one of Memphis' most popular and accomplished bands, Brad Postlethwaite has made his biggest impact on local music through collaboration. But this may be the year the spotlight focuses a little more on Postlethwaite himself.

Postlethwaite's last solo album was 2003's Welcome to the Occupation, a concept album based around an arc of societal and political events following the 9/11 attacks. This year, Postlethwaite returns with dual successors -- one to be released July 18th and another to surface before the close of the year -- that will be less politically charged. "[Snowglobe] had the idea to release four solo albums, like KISS did, and mine's more along the lines of love songs this time around," says Postlethwaite.

When the Makeshift label was profiled in the Flyer's 2004 music issue, Postlethwaite was pondering the idea of lessening his involvement with Makeshift and Snowglobe in favor of focusing on academic pursuits. But two years later, Postlethwaite has obviously not placed music on the back burner, despite Snowglobe's shaky status following the move of co-frontman Tim Regan to Knoxville. Instead of pulling back, Postlethwaite has been playing local gigs regularly with a back-up band that includes members of Snowglobe and Makeshift cohorts the Coach & Four. And Makeshift, a label that has long earned its name, has recently solidified itself in a very tangible way: "We rented an actual office for label business and storage, and we've talked about opening part of it up to the public for the display of art, maybe for people to congregate," Postlethwaite says.

But despite this tremendous burst of activity, Postlethwaite isn't sure what the future holds: "When I start medical school, I hope to stay involved, but I have no idea how intense things will be." -- Andrew Earles

Voter comments:

Postlethwaite is one of the most vital musicians to the Memphis music scene simply because he has been so instrumental in giving local bands an outlet to the world through his Makeshift record label. Not only this, but the former Snowglobe frontman regularly plays around town with an eclectic cast of the most talented musicians in the city, always bringing something new to the table while retaining the charm that made Snowglobe such a favorite. -- Rachel Drinkard

Postlethwaite has only one three-year-old record release to his name and performs infrequent live shows around town with his friends, and both are well-worth seeking out. But the real reason he is on this list is for his role as ringleader for the musical circus that is Makeshift, the six-year-old label whose roster is a who's who of Memphis' most vital artists. -- Mark Jordan

Next local show: Friday, May 26th, at Newbys

p._26_music_top_10_2.jpg

6. Scott Bomar

Some musicians strive for the spotlight, while others have behind-the-scenes aspirations, finding contentment in session work or backing bigger stars. The Memphis music scene has a legacy of producing both types -- think Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore, Billy Lee Riley and Roland Janes, or Otis Redding and Steve Cropper.

Bassist Scott Bomar has been getting his fair share of publicity this year, but it's clear that he burns brightest when he's making other artists shine, whether it's Craig Brewer and the cast of Hustle & Flow (that's Bomar's snappy score you hear in the background), Stax alumni Skip Pitts and Willie Hall (Bomar formed his instrumental group the Bo-Keys around their formidable talents), or recording projects like Calvin Newborn's comeback album, New Born.

This year, Bomar is on a roll: At his Electraphonic Studio, he's overseen sessions by rapper David Banner, roots group the Haunted Hearts, and reissue projects like Impala's Night Full of Sirens. He's also logged hours at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio and Ardent Studios, where, as music supervisor for Brewer's Black Snake Moan, he just wrapped up scoring sessions.

"Working on Craig's movies has opened a whole new world of opportunity," says Bomar, calling from the Hollywood lot where he's mastering the Black Snake Moan score.

"Everything has come full circle for me this year," he says. "In 1992, I was working in the Select-O-Hits warehouse, and that's when artists like Three 6, 8Ball, and Al Kapone started putting product out. I got an education there that's carried me through the last 15 years." -- AL

Voter comments:

This bassist/producer/composer is the modern Memphis equivalent to Steve Cropper. -- Eddie Hankins

Why [Bomar], instead of Three 6 Mafia, didn't get the Oscar for Hustle & Flow is silly. His [score] is one of the best things about that movie. -- Eric Hermeyer

Next local show: Bomar will play bandleader as his group the Bo-Keys backs rapper Al Kapone at the Beale Street Music Fest. Kapone and the Bo-Keys perform at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 6th, on the Budweiser Stage.

7. North Mississippi Allstars

The North Mississippi Allstars currently occupy an awkward space: They're almost too popular for theater gigs, yet they aren't pulling in the numbers needed to headline bigger venues. They're ubiquitous late-night TV performers, yet they're far from becoming household names. They're perennial Grammy nominees, yet they always lose out to older, more traditional acts like B.B. King. They're also on the road so much that Memphis must seem like a distant memory, yet, as frontman Luther Dickinson explained at NARAS' Project M Luncheon last March, they feel like ambassadors of the city's music scene, spreading the gospel wherever they go.

The Allstars, however, handle their position with grace, shaking off the growing pains like the cobwebs of last night's party.

They embrace their Memphis roots on their latest album, Electric Blue Watermelon, which was released last September.

At the same time, the self-described "psychedelic blues band" continues to strive forward, as evidenced by the release of the Electric Blue Watermelon Screwed and Chopped EP, remixed by Houston's DJ Jimmy D and produced by Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson.

"It's really great to be able to work with so many musicians that we like," says Cody Dickinson.

"Our relationship with Al [Kapone] helps elevate both our careers," Dickinson says, "like when [Hustle & Flow star] Anthony Anderson appeared on the Carson Daly show and we performed 'Whoop That Trick.' It took both of us to another level."

This month, the Allstars are touring with Kid Rock, which ought to help widen their fanbase. They're readying for the European release of Electric Blue Watermelon, and they're booking dates with singer-songwriter John Hiatt, whom they backed on last year's Master of Disaster.

-- AL

Voter comments:

Spreading the gospel and hill-country-blues-infused rock, the Dickinson boys and [bassist] Chris Chew are representing Memphis worldwide. -- Don Mann

Luther Dickinson really outdid himself with the griot-type stories he fashioned out of his own short but deeply rooted musical journey -- connecting everyone and everything in his life through the lens of his early childhood connections to the North Mississippi hill-country blues. Then he, Cody, and Chris (and a whole slew of others) backed up the words with a musical statement that resonated with enough power, grace, and fluidity to capture this moment in their lives in a truly amazing way. -- Richard Cushing

Next local show: Nothing scheduled at press time

p._26_music_top_10_3.jpg

8. Augustine

A now omnipresent name around town, Augustine is, along with the Glass, the local rock scene's best bet to break out beyond mere regional success. The five-piece, in which three members play keyboards (but, if this makes sense, they play keyboards like they're guitars), are steadily gaining positive local press through regular shows and that elusive task that local bands seem to be allergic to: (gasp) TOURING.

They are the type of band that would justify a thesaurus designed exclusively for music writers. There is no choice but to fall back on tired crutches like "soaring" or "grandiose." The attention-commanding guitar/keyboards layer cake defies the band's "disaffected love affair with minimalist art rock" -- as stated on their Web site. Last year's Broadcast (on Makeshift) sounds like the forgotten late-'80s proto-Brit-pop mini-movement that included bands such as House of Love and the Mighty Lemon Drops, albeit with a breadth of influence wide enough to include both Sonic Youth and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Gathering a respectable live draw over the past year and a half, Augustine is an important element in Memphis' independent rock scene in much the same way that the remainder of the Makeshift roster is important: They don't sound like they're from Memphis. While some may balk at that statement, understand that variety in our exports is vital, and while we produce worthy outfits that become regionally associated with the city, Memphis shouldn't be known only as a home base for garage or Southern rock. A sort of bombastic Anglophilic surprise is healthy, and that's exactly what Augustine provide on Broadcast. -- AE

Voter comments:

These young guys have it together. Good attitude, great band, and their crowds are getting bigger all the time. I expect great things from them -- Mike Smith

Unlike anything else on the Memphis music scene today, this band appeals to hard- and indie-rockers alike. The songwriting is pure Joy Division, full of keyboard washes and angry-young-man lyrics, but the guitar heroics and jams are '70s rock on the order of Marc Bolan and the Velvet Underground.

-- Mark Jordan

Next local show: Augustine hits the Beale Street Music Festival, playing the Budweiser Stage at 6:15 p.m. Friday, May 5th. But if you don't want to negotiate the crowds, you can catch the band Saturday, May 13th, at the Hi-Tone Café.

p._26_music_top_10_4.jpg

9. The Glass

The two full-length albums (Concorde and last year's Hibernation) by the Glass both utilize cover art that either insinuates or all-out depicts a frigid world. This is alternately appropriate and misleading. The music is certainly not "cold" like, say, Joy Division is cold, which is to say mechanical.

If anything, the Glass peddles an organic, often very slow-building drama. It's cold, as in brooding and lonely, but with a heaping of heart and no shortage of guitar communication that every now and then recalls the two '80s icons that they cover live: the Replacements ("Unsatisfied") and Mission of Burma ("That's When I Reach For My Revolver").

Brad Bailey's unmistakable vocals owed more than a passing resemblance to the late Jeff Buckley on Concorde, but he came into his own with Hibernation -- an album that is more upbeat, more aggressive than its predecessor.

The Glass has enjoyed the advantageous position of opening for Lucero on many out-of-town occasions, thus guaranteeing them a large audience of prospective non-regional fans. This is important because the Glass has the sonic and songwriting chops to make a mark anywhere. "It's a matter of getting in front of people, but it's also a matter of learning how to do this, how to develop a national audience," says Bailey. -- AE

p._26_music_top_10_5.jpg

Voter comments:

The Glass has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two years, getting a little louder and walking a line between genres. -- Matt Cole

Hibernation is the only album that ever made me cry. -- Rachel Drinkard

Next local show: Friday, May 12th, at Young Avenue Deli, with American Princes.

10. Jay Lindsey/the Final Solutions

Show no surprise if Jay Lindsey -- aka Jay Reatard -- becomes a sought-after producer in the year 2036. Honestly, I could see Lindsey being anywhere in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, as he's a degree of "everywhere" now. Along with girlfriend Alix Brown, Lindsey runs Shattered Records, a wildly prolific local indie label (now numbering 12 releases) that has specialized in challenging and esoteric seven-inches.

Lindsey also entertains a rotating cast of musical projects, which currently includes but is not limited to the Reatards (in what might be considered "version 2.0"), the Angry Angles (with Brown), the Final Solutions, and a solo album on In the Red Records due in September.

"I wanted to release the solo album as a fake band, because it's this Wipers-like pop, but the label wanted to use 'Jay Reatard' for name recognition," Lindsey says. "[The poppier direction] was a conscious decision to distance myself from previous bands, like the Lost Sounds."

Accurately recreating the off-kilter aesthetics of late-'70s subterranean DIY punk rock, the Final Solutions, Lindsey's longest-running project at this point (discounting the revamped Reatards), are an outlet for his drumming, vocals, between-song live banter, and recording techniques. A disparate group of musicians that includes a grade-school teacher, the Secret Service's Justice Naczycz, and Goner Records co-owner Zac Ives, the Solutions spent the past year playing out infrequently but are slated to release their second full-length in the fall (on Goner). -- AE

Voter comments:

The Final Solutions' live shows are legendary. You never know if you're going to see the greatest rock-and-roll show of your life or a band on the verge of implosion, but you always remember exactly what happened when you wake up the next day. -- Scott Rogers

My brain explodes at every show. They put on a live performance you can't believe, and the crowd's reaction would kick Lucero's ass! -- Nichole Newman

Next local show: The Final Solutions play the Hi-Tone Café Saturday, May 20th, with the Neon Maniacs.

Add a comment