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CD Review

Obscure Memphis popstar finally gets some much-deserved recognition.

Tommy Hoehn - Losing You To Sleep

By Scott Homewood

Air Mail Records

Memphis reminds me a lot of New Orleans. Not only are both world-class cities with their own rich histories of influencing almost every aspect of the world's culture from cuisine to art, but they both have a similar way of closely guarding their own, almost to a fault. Take New Orleans: there are stars from New Orleans that are worshipped like kings but are unknown, or long-forgotten, in almost every other place in the world. There are also other musicians who are virtual prisoners - so addicted to the way of life they are used to that they cannot succeed anywhere else no matter how hard they try because they simply do not, or cannot, fit in and end up living in obscurity, despite their talent. \par It is the same way in Memphis.

Though filled to the brim with people with more musical talent than they have a right to possess, there are also tons of the musically walking wounded - artists who should have, could have, had-it-but-lost-it, close-but-no-cigar careers - who just couldn't conquer the hold (or curse) Memphis has on them. Probably the biggest rock band from Memphis who should have made it but didn't is the band Big Star featuring Chris Bell and Alex Chilton (post Box Tops). Influential to a host of '80's rockers but whose own albums sold hardly anything, the band remained a footnote in the history of rock until bands like the Replacements started namechecking them and covering their songs. Following up not far behind that legendary band in the Memphis obscurity sweepstakes is Tommy Hoehn, who has himself sang backup with Big Star (on Sisters/Lovers), and had been a vital part of the mid-70's Memphis pop scene.

A master at McCartney-esque pop filtered through a Southern point of view, Hoehn was poised to break through big time in the mid-70's when he was signed to London Records after the label caught wind of his first album, the enigmatic Space Break. Soon, he was hustled to New York City and given free reign to record his melodic but quirky love songs. The result was Losing You To Sleep, a weird little pop record that has a ton of Beatles and Big Star influences right down to it's production. In this Air Mail Records version, a Japanese import, it is also paired with the EP that followed, I Do Love The Light which is also an intriguing example of mid-70's pop. Anyone checking out these albums and looking for the huge hooks of the Raspberries or Badfinger will come off a little confused as Hoehn's hooks and clever wordplay sneak up on you only after repeated listening. But, when you do put the time in, you will be rewarded with the benefits of one of the most overlooked and under appreciated pop records of all time. Still recording today, often with fellow Memphis pop also-ran Van Duren, Hoehn continues to make masterful pop and is a definite survivor who should not be counted out. A cagey singer or band could take any one of these smartly-written tunes and get the hit record Hoehn deserved.

Anyone interested in McCartney's '70's work and Todd Rundgren will find plenty to like here as the songs are all top notch with plenty of great performances.

 

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