To hear JD McPherson say it, he heard Little Richard and there was no turning back. That pioneering hero and the music of Buddy Holly form the basis of the sound of the records McPherson has gone on to make. His song "North Side Gal" caught a lot of attention for his first album, which was made in a bit of a vacuum with nobody having many expectations.
That's not so true for his new one, Let The Good Times Roll. McPherson worked hard to not make the same record again. We'll talk about that process, let him expound on some of his favorite music and mostly hear some fabulous performances from the stage of World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
Originally published on Sun February 8, 2015 11:41 am
JD McPherson says there's no contest for the best record ever made: Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'." With that as his touchstone, it's no wonder that McPherson's latest album, Let the Good Times Roll, sounds the way it does — and yet there's something besides homage going on in the music. The roots rocker says that for his sophomore release, he wanted to make what he calls "'50s psychedelic."
Two stretched concepts made the rock 'n' roll coming out of Sun Studios in the 1950s unlike other music of its kind: time and space. In a shabby little room near downtown Memphis, Sam Phillips gave the men and kids he recorded all the room in the world. "Spontaneity" was Phillips' mantra, which was particularly potent for the youngest Sun cats. Following it, Elvis and all the other rockabillies shambled their way toward coherence, made mistakes, got wild and kept tweaking country music and the blues until the sound hitting Sun's wooden walls turned new.
It's sad, then, that so many musicians who've tried to revive the Sun spirit reject spontaneity the way they'd turn down a Gap knock-off of an authentic vintage bowler's shirt. That's what makes JD McPherson stand out: Though his music honors mid-century sounds with laser precision, the Tulsa bomber takes so many little chances in his songs that they never sound like mere replicas. McPherson's first album, Signs & Signifiers, burned through the wall of its own references — to Elvis and Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Big Joe Turner — on the strength of the singer's kerosene tenor and his band's masterful looseness. Working with a new producer, Mark Neill, on Let The Good Times Roll, McPherson goes one step further, finding that genre-defying mix that made early rock 'n' roll the sexiest thing on the radio.
After all the time we've spent looking back at the best music of 2014, it is finally time to explore some of the releases we can look forward to over the first few months of 2015.
NPR Music's pop critic Ann Powers keeps her eyes on wide range of music; she helps us understand the middle and explore the edges. Her picks for the new year include songs from Oklahoma's retro-rocker JD McPherson, Seattle's female hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction and a brand new country duo from Nashville called Striking Matches.