Ter­rell’s Tune-Up A new al­bum from Harlan T. Bobo

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Harlan T. Bobo isn’t ex­actly a house­hold name — unless you’re a ded­i­cated devo­tee of the un­der­ground rock scene in Mem­phis. And he seems to con­sciously choose to cling to his anonymity. Though the singer says he’s legally changed his name to the one you see on his records, like Leon Red­bone, he keeps his birth name se­cret. He’s been known to wear masks at his per­for­mances and in gen­eral doesn’t seem to have a naked thirst for big-time suc­cess and star­dom.

But he’s good, and his spo­rad­i­cally re­leased records are well worth seek­ing out. A great place to start is his lat­est, A His­tory of Vi­o­lence, which is his first al­bum since 2010’s Sucker and his best so far. While there are sev­eral stark, moody acous­tic songs here, most of the strong­est tracks are the ones in which Bobo and his stripped-down band of Mem­phis mafiosos rage and roar as if they are fight­ing off demons from a mad­man’s dreams. These in­clude “Spi­ders,” “Paula,” and “Town” (yes, he uses one-word song ti­tles), which starts off with Bobo singing, “God damn this town” and proceeds to get even an­grier.

Like his first al­bum, Too Much Love, this one is con­sid­ered a break-up al­bum. It comes in the wake of his di­vorce. That would put it in the same strato­sphere as ro­mance-on-the-rocks records like Bob Dy­lan’s Blood on the Tracks; Phases and Stages by Wil­lie Nel­son; Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear; Sinead O’Con­nor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got; Back to Black by Amy Wine­house; and Fleet­wood Mac’s

Ru­mours. (I don’t care what any­one says, a rip­ping ver­sion of “Go Your Own Way” by Bobo and combo would have sounded great on this al­bum.) Maybe even Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours.

How­ever, Bobo claims it’s not re­ally a break-up al­bum at all. In an in­ter­view in Mem­phis Flyer a few months ago, he said, “The fact is, the record has very lit­tle to do my mar­riage. A cou­ple songs are about that, but the rest of it is ad­dress­ing some­thing that’s dis­turbed me since child­hood, and it’s that ag­gres­sion wins, you know? It wins out on top of con­sid­er­a­tion for peo­ple, diplo­macy, be­cause all those things are very bor­ing com­pared to the vis­ceral ex­ci­ta­tion of ag­gres­sion and vi­o­lence,” re­fer­ring to the south­ern French city of Per­pig­nan, where he lives these days with his young son. “And the place I live in now, it’s not vi­o­lent like any­thing in Amer­ica, but it’s very ag­gres­sive. And the way peo­ple raise their chil­dren and treat each other is re­ally dis­turb­ing to me,” he said.

Still, it’s hard not to think that the emo­tional strain of di­vorce doesn’t seep into these songs, which are packed with frus­tra­tion, des­per­a­tion, and lone­li­ness. Some of the hard­est rock­ing tunes are ob­vi­ously dark fan­tasies of wan­ton vi­o­lence. There’s “Na­dine,” a tragic tale of a cabaret singer, and “Paula,” in which a musical crime spree ends with a dis­turb­ing vi­sion of the nar­ra­tor swing­ing from the gal­lows af­ter be­ing dragged through the town by an­gry cit­i­zens.

It’s not the most fierce rocker on the al­bum. One of the most pow­er­ful tunes here is the brood­ing, slow­burn­ing “Ghost,” which in­vites com­par­isons with Nick Cave. It’s one of the ob­vi­ous break-up songs here. The most heart-wrench­ing verse is a scene from a mar­riage in which the singer re­calls some ten­sions sprout­ing from a day at some car­ni­val: “You remember that fish you won at the fair/You said I fed it too much, I said you didn’t feed it enough/Ei­ther way, the damned thing died.” But im­me­di­ately af­ter that bad me­mory, Bobo’s at­ten­tion turns away from the fish and to­ward a child. “That boy’s gonna suf­fer, and Lord, he’s suf­fered enough/He’ll make some­one suf­fer from all he’s learned from love ...”

A His­tory of Vi­o­lence is not easy lis­ten­ing by any stretch. But unless you’re a cold, dead fish, it’s a re­ward­ing lis­ten for the stout of heart and de­serves a wider au­di­ence. Check it out at Goner Records, tinyurl.com/BoboVi­o­lence.

Also rec­om­mended: 3 Cheers to Noth­ing by Trixie & The Train­wrecks. Trin­ity Sar­ratt is a Cal­i­for­nia-born singer who moved to Ber­lin. There she be­gan per­form­ing in a num­ber of bands, even do­ing a stint as a one-per­son group called Trixie Train­wreck No-Man Band. With the aid of har­mon­ica blower called Char­lie Hang­dog, she as­sem­bled a group, The Train­wrecks, and recorded this al­bum of what their la­bel Voodoo Rhythm Records ac­cu­rately calls “over­driven-long-gone-bro­ken­hearted-coun­try-blues-trash num­bers from the wrong side of the tracks.”

But it’s the kind of trash I like. Made up mostly of orig­i­nal tunes, Trixie romps through rough-edged bluesy tunes like “Daddy’s Gone,” “Poor and Broke,” and “Commuter Blues.” She in­vokes the ghost of Jim­mie Rodgers on “Yodelin’ Bay­onne Blues” (with the best use of a slide whis­tle since The Hoosier Hot­shots) and does a sweet cover of one of my fa­vorite Hank Wil­liams songs, “Lone­some Whis­tle.” There’s an in­stru­men­tal called “Ev­ery­body Goes to Heaven,” though the words in the ti­tle ap­pear in the next track, “End of Nowhere.” (Nei­ther is the Mose Al­li­son clas­sic.) You can find this glo­ri­ous train­wreck at tinyurl .com/Trix­ieCheers.

Big Hal­loween pod­cast: It’s the dy­namic 10th an­niver­sary of the Big En­chi­lada pod­cast, as well as my an­nual Hal­loween episode. You’ll hear hor­ri­fy­ing sounds from the likes of Thee Oh Sees, Black Joe Lewis, The Fuz­ztones, The Com­pul­sive Gam­blers, Ron­nie Daw­son, and New Mex­ico’s own Alien Space Kitchen. That’s at bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com.

Also this week, check out Ter­rell’s Sound World, my lo­cal ra­dio show on KSFR, 101.1 FM, or ksfr.org, where you’ll hear a lot of spooky tunes in honor of this sa­cred hol­i­day sea­son. The show starts at 10 p.m. Sun­day, Oct. 28.

A His­tory of Vi­o­lence is not easy lis­ten­ing by any stretch. But unless you’re a cold, dead fish, it’s a re­ward­ing lis­ten for the stout of heart and de­serves a wider au­di­ence.

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