Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch”series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
A few years ago, I came across the term ‘Outsider Xian Folk’ on some of the prevalent blogs of the time, which led to a rich vein of obscure, unheard-by-anyone ore. Bob Desper’s “New Sounds” is one of the best, from that batch. The music is rich, unadorned folk – nimble acoustic guitars and a lone voice. One gets the feeling this would be championed to the heavens, if Desper hadn’t name-checked the Son Of Man. The barest whiff of sacred incense is enough to scare off the casual sub-cultural listener. Which is too bad, as this is gorgeous stuff. A direct transmission from the dead of night. Desper makes us wonder, for how many Nick Drakes there are out there, how many bright lights remain unearthed? Desper reminds us to never stop listening, never stop digging, never stop searching for brilliance, no matter what their cosmology.
Accidentally blinded at adolescence, the Portland-based Bob Desper released just one record– in 1974, and limited to a 500-copy pressing on a local Christian imprint– before fading into the woodwork, leaving only this tiny morsel of music behind for anyone to find and follow back to its source. Which, inevitably, someone at Discourage Records belatedly did, discovering in the process that Desper is alive and relatively well at age 60, and that this modest forgotten record floats from the past to the present with an undeniable insistence, pulling attention to itself until you can’t pay attention to anything else.
Indeed, New Sounds is a classic lost record, though whether it counts as a lost classic is pretty relative, considering that even folk heavy hitters Nick Drake or Bert Jansch were once tagged as totally obscure by all but the most ardent followers of the form. New Sounds isn’t the sort of record that would appeal to casual toe-dippers, anyway. Rather, it’s the kind of recording, like Gary Higgins’ similarly recently unearthed Red Hash, pretty much designed to be lost and rediscovered decades later. It benefits from the mystery, and even if Desper himself (sadly no longer able to play guitar, thanks to a recent injury) has been found, it’s almost better to listen to the record imagining Desper was lost as well.
It’s not that much of a stretch, as Desper already sounds pretty lost circa-1974 singing songs such as “Lonely Man”, “Liberty”, “Don’t You Cry for Me”, and “Time Is Almost Over”. With their quiet mix of strumming and finger picking paired with mournful, reverb-laden vocals, tracks such as these are private and personal, as if Desper recorded them addressing his reflection in a mirror he could no longer see. They’re certainly a far cry from the lusher “Dry Up Those Tears” and “The World Is Crying Out for Love”, Desper’s formative recordings, originally released as a 7″ and included as bonus tracks to this reissue.
It’s on those two early songs that we can hear the link not just to other forgotten folkies but to such haunted troubadours as Big Star’s Chris Bell, similarly ambitious writers who in the end may as well have been recording songs strictly for themselves. That Desper, too, has finally found his way out from the dustbin will impact the world only a bit more than New Sounds did 36 years ago, but on any given night when you may feel just a bit like Desper did the day this album was recorded (reportedly in just a single take), it’s the kind of record that can pull you out of your mood by drawing you wholly into his.
Bob Desper “New Sounds” (1974)