The author of books on Muddy Waters and Stax Records, Robert Gordon has reported on the grass-roots weirdness of Memphis, Tenn., for more than 30 years. While the Bluff City is known globally as the home of Elvis, Mr. Gordon is more enamored of his town’s glorious undercard of James Carr, Charlie Feathers and Phineas Newborn Jr., to name a few of the characters ... Pairing features, reviews and profiles with after-the-fact explanation and commentary, the collection includes Mr. Gordon’s biggest hits and some previously unreleased bonus tracks ... What I enjoyed most was the sense of humility and hard work that pervade Mr. Gordon’s stories. In a writing world that often feels self-celebratory to the point of delusion, Mr. Gordon reminds us that, as an early colleague told him, 'it’s just words.' When friends in stable careers project their Bohemian fantasies on him, he stares back, longing for a dental plan. His choice, however, is not without rewards. Looking back at 'all these heroic individuals who followed the muse and cut paths of their own,' Mr. Gordon sees 'the fleeting shimmer of the treasure I’ve witnessed.'
The subjects, though united by a shared rebelliousness, are nonetheless varied. Memphis Rent Party is no blues biography or soul exegesis. The subject is neither Stax nor Sun, but a range of artists as diverse and multifaceted as the Bluff City itself ... Memphis Rent Party succeeds in describing the particulars by examining the circumstances that helped produce them. It is impossible to study Memphis music divorced from the economic and social conditions that allowed these sounds to thrive, so at times, this collection is a study of the South, of its mores and norms, its casual cruelties and discriminations. But, as Gordon writes...'[b]lues is the mind's escape from the body's obligation. Blues amplifies the relief whenever and wherever relief can be found. The scarcity of that respite makes it ecstatic.'
Longtime music journalist Robert Gordon shares the city’s tales in Memphis Rent Party, a collection of his past work. Though much of this material is previously published, each piece is injected with new life by Gordon’s introductions, in which he offers a reflection on the essay’s inception. Gordon isn’t afraid to reveal some of the complicated workings behind the curtain ... The collection is loosely autobiographical, as Gordon appears as a character in many of these portraits. He’s a man who was raised by the city, who discovered within its boundaries the music that would drive his life forward. Readers may find hope and inspiration, just as Gordon did, in the drive and passion of these musicians.