The Upshot: Two-disc tribute to late Salt Lake City musical and visual polyglot suggests he shoulda been a national contender.
BY FRED MILLS
On one level, there’s nothing particularly illuminating about a tribute album devoted to an artist who probably wasn’t known all that well beyond the local scene that spawned him. Musician comes to prominence, is respected throughout his community, dies far too young, and his friends and peers subsequently mount a memorial in order to give him a permanent salute; happens in towns with thriving music scenes all the time, right?
But—and this is major but—if you peer closely, you’ll discover that Utah’s Bob Moss was an unusual individual, one so immensely talented (in more than one artistic discipline, it turns out) that it’s literally a cultural crime he wasn’t known far and wide. The quality of songwriting displayed on Son of Deseret is, quite frankly, off the charts; that the 20+ musicians contributing tracks here evidence such a remarkable range of styles and textures on Moss material further suggests a songwriter of uncommon breadth. If this had been released in Moss’ lifetime, I have no doubt that national critics would have been falling all over themselves to find out more about this cult artist.
By way of capsule bio: Bob Moss was a fixture on both Salt Lake City’s music and visual art scenes, a long-haired, bespectacled rocker/folkie/roots musician with a tendency towards the eccentric who also created eye-popping folk art images along the lines of Rev. Howard Finster and Jon Langford. He passed away in his sleep in December 2011 (Below, see a photo of Moss holding one of his pieces; I have borrowed this from SLC’s City Weekly but could not determine a photo credit.) In fact, from Jan. 20 through Feb. 13 a gallery homage to Moss was mounted, Covering Moss: A Bob Moss Visual Art Tribute, so highly regarded was the man. Among his fans was legendary underground artist Daniel Clowes.
As far as the musical tribute is concerned, it grew out of a backyard jam held at Moss’ good friend Mike Kirkland (late of NYC band Prong) with a bunch of locals playing Moss’s songs. The emotions were so high that Kirkland decided it would be appropriate to get things down for posterity, and, along with fellow SLC musician and radio personality Bad Brad Wheeler, got the ball rolling. A list of all the performers appears on the poster at the bottom of this page, and yes, the demon feline image is one that Moss himself created. It’s a nicely-recorded, well-sequenced collection that literally has something for nearly every musical taste.
Highlights? Opening cut “True Love Is Hard To Find,” by Chubby Bunny, a self-described “chick band,” kicks things off in fine, distaff indie rock fashion, handclaps not optional. “The Ballad of John Baptiste” continues the indie rock thread, this time going for a rowdy Pixies vibe, right down to the quirky lyrics: “I’ll tell you about John Baptiste now/ He’s the kind of old-timer didn’t dig the vows/ So he got a shovel and he did run/ To the graveyard, baby, did he have some fun!/ Weird, weird fun…” The gorgeous “Croppingham Fair,” by Tracy Medley, shifts gears yet again, this time heading off in a folkrock direction a la Fairport Convention. “Killer’s Lament” suggests a cross between Johnny Cash and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and with a performer named Aldine Strychnine you know it’s gotta be great. “Paradigm Shift,” by Murder Mystery Party, is pure Ramones. The whimsical “Captain Nemo Sea Shanty,” by Dave Bowen, Patrick Kenny and Audrey Smith, is a strummy, sunny singalong guaranteed to get toes to tappin’ as the musicians swap verses then sonically embrace on the choruses. “I Believe In Ghosts” finds Lara & The Haole Boys is alt-country as sweet as it comes, with a pedal steel and mandolin arrangement and sweet, Neko Case-like vocals. “Pete the Pacer” takes a Chuck Berry (R.I.P.) progression and gives it a kind of Fred Schneider-fronts-the-Beach Boys twist; the trio of Staker, Randito & Royal is a kind of rock critics summit, so it makes sense they’d do this kind of mash-up. And “Big Top Blues,” by Schneider, Balsam & Atwell, is just plain gonzoid, almost like Tom Waits singing beat poetry over a collage of found sounds.
And that’s just a handful of the 24 tracks. Aside from the inherent “fun” factor derived from trying to figure out just what made Moss tick musically—good luck with that; he seemed boundaryless—the outpouring of Moss verbiage is guaranteed to keep you amusedly scratching your head for the duration. Some of them jump out from the stereo, like the line “Nyquil habit suddenly made a wreck out of me,” while others are merely inscrutable. But it’s clear Moss was both a poet and a storyteller, sometimes both at once, so there’s plenty of quality time that awaits you once you cue up the first disc.
“Deseret” is a word derived from The Book of Mormon, “deseret” meaning “honeybee”; Wikipedia informs us it’s part of “the language of the Jaredites, a group believed by the Mormons to have been led to the Americas during the time of the construction of the Tower of Babel.” Armed with that insider knowledge, it now makes perfect sense to label Utah’s Moss and his songs a “son of deseret.” I’m betting he wouldn’t have it any other way.
To learn more about Bob Moss read “Resurrecting Deseret’s Son” by Jeremy Cardenas, about the tribute project’s origins; “I Believe in Ghosts,” by Brian Staker, a remembrance five years after his untimely death; and “The Cult of Bob,” by Randy Harward, a 2007 profile.
DOWNLOAD: Just drop the digital needle anywhere, it’ll come up aces.