Here’s another private-press success story, this time with a special needs and religious twist: a young man moves to the Pacific Northwest. Blinded after a childhood accident, he discovers his musical voice as a high school drop-out. He becomes a reputable singer-songwriter among local spiritual and country musicians and releases an album in the early ’70s. Then comes the requisite period of obscurity. Fast forward to the present and you-know-what happens on you-know-which auction sites, and then you-know-what-else happens.
In many ways Bob Desper’s road to famed obscurity is no different than the increasingly numerous others. He came, he struggled, he disappeared, and he finally came into vogue several decades later. The collector’s circuit again has proven to be the de facto minor league where non-major label talent can cultivate an audience — the catch being that the talent often doesn’t know about their audience, let alone the absurdly high prices their fruits are trading at. However, Desper’s output — a 7-inch from 1972 and the 1974 album, New Sounds — has become something of a “downer” or “loner folk” classic. The tags are rather misleading considering the spiritual man’s firm and optimistic beliefs. So, perhaps Discourage Records’ reissue of Desper’s discography is more an opportunity to set the record straight.
His debut “Dry Up Those Tears” 7-inch is a pleasant, sonic kin to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. It resounds with flowing hair, smiling beards and subtle spirituality. The b-side “The World Is Crying Out For Love” in particular deserves this opt-cited comparison as it sways happily to a hippy-friendly blend of acoustic guitars and Hammond organs.
New Sounds, of course, is the centerpiece. Reportedly recorded in one take, the album’s arrangements are a stark contrast: simply Desper’s voice and acoustic guitar. A quick scan of the song titles may reinforce the “lonely” and “downer” tags — “Darkness Is Like A Shadow,” “Lonely Man,” “Time Is Almost Over” — but the material is better characterized as a journal of one man’s path to spirituality. There are cautionary tales of lessons learned, such as “It’s Too Late” (“If you were going down that road/ Just remember death lies on the highway”). There are comforting embraces, like “Lonely man someone loves you… someone died for you”). And confident reassurances on behalf of the Savior, like in “Don’t You Cry For Me” (“He’s coming again for you”). New Sounds has none of the desperation associated with loneliness. Instead, it is resolutely confident in faith.
In addition to combining all of Desper’s recorded output, the reissue includes a more detailed version of the bio posted on his website. Written by the heads of Discourage Records and the men behind the reissue, Paul Anson and Paul Montone, the loving bio includes input from friends and colleagues of Desper, as well as from the man himself. However, the main attraction is the reintroduction of these recorded gems — and just in time for the man’s 60th birthday, on July 1. While a decades-old hand injury prevents Desper from performing like he once did, the recordings allow him to once again share his thoughts on faith and salvation.