Bob Desper – New Sounds [reissue]

January 01, 1970

Records/Bob Desper Music)


The unlikely saga
of Bob Desper may be one of the stranger musical tales extracted from
obscurity. It began with a young man who became blind at age ten and
subsequently devoted himself to making music and traveling the country in a
quest for spiritual solace. He eventually settled in a small Oregon Christian
community in the early ‘70s, and, encouraged to vent his artistic ambitions, he
released a single called “Dry Up Those Tears,” a song that paid homage to an
obvious infatuation with George Harrison. After the record achieved some local
success, he went ahead and recorded an entire album, which he dubbed New Sounds. Desper was only at 23 at the
time, but his deft guitar play, thoughtful lyrics and worldly vocals reflected
the sound of a thoughtful young man crying out from the darkness and lighting a
path for others to follow.


Desper never
released another record after that, and though he continued to perform in some
small local venues, he all but disappeared for the next 35 years. Oddly enough,
the album became something of a holy grail for collectors who would scour
garage sales, second-hand shops and used music stores for one of the 500 copies
that were originally pressed. That might have been the end of the tale had it
not been for Paul Montone and Paul Anson, two owners of Portland’s Discourage
Records, who happened to discover a copy in a record store on the Oregon coast.
Unaware of its sentimental value or collectors’ obsessions, they purchased it
for the sum of 36 cents, brought it home and popped it on the turntable. Taken
by its haunting quality, they were inspired to re-release it and even managed
to track down Desper, now 60, and get his permission to reproduce both the
album and single in vinyl pressings.


Even for those
unawares of the back story, New Sounds is still a satisfying introduction to a singer/songwriter who purveys only his
voice, guitar and some thoughtful, introspective songs, some of which were said
to have been improvised on the spot. As a product of the early ‘70s, it
reflects the same dry, deliberative observations emulated by others during that
time period – Jackson Browne, David Blue, Eric Anderson and the like – while
also stirring a guarded optimism that offers comfort for troubled times… a
message that still resonates today. The production is sparse and unadorned, as
befits these weary tales. Likewise, a hint of reverb adds a quaint touch not
uncommon in that era, most notably on the pleading, plaintive “Liberty.”
Fortunately, it doesn’t distract from the song’s innate embrace. Indeed,
there’s no denying the expressive emotion suggested by such entries as “It’s
Too Late,” “To a Friend of Mine” and “Let It Shine For You,” material that
could still provide apt fodder for coffee house gatherings if Desper had the
ability and desire to pick up where he left off some 3 ½ decades ago. Granted, New Sounds is largely a cultish choice,
but anyone who has a fondness for folkies, particularly those of the sensitive,
forlorn variety, might seize on a common connection.


DOWNLOAD: as “It’s Too Late,” “To a Friend of Mine” LEE ZIMMERMAN




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