JD McPherson

Emily Ulmer / courtesy of the artist

Every month, NPR Music asks public radio personalities around this country to name a new favorite song and then we feature one of those songs on Morning Edition.

Other Lives left their hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma two years ago and relocated to Portland, Oregon to record the follow-up to 2011's Tamer Animals. In an exhaustive search for a new musical identity, the band wrote more than 60 prospective songs for their latest album, Rituals. If the lead single, "Reconfiguration," is any indication, the change of scenery did them some good. Like many of their previous efforts, "Reconfiguration" features rolling piano arrangements and lush production, but gone are the obvious folk influences and the echoey sonic imagery of wide open spaces. Moodier and smoother than its earthy predecessors, "Reconfiguration" showcases Jesse Tabish's sultry singing, which is more emotive than on past recordings. And this time around, the echo chamber is reserved for a haunting backing chorus that would give listeners the creeps if the overall arrangement weren't so damn sexy. —Jerad Walker, opbmusic

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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.

Welcome to Sample Size, where KOSU's Ryan LaCroix and LOOKatOKC pop music columnist Matt Carney team up each week to discuss music news and new music releases.

Today, we look at music from three Oklahoma acts—a concept album from Beau Jennings, a slight shift in sound for Other Lives, and a strong new album from JD McPherson.

Follow Matt & Ryan on Twitter at @OKmattcarney and @KOSUryan.

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."

Jim Herrington/Courtesy of the artist

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. 

  • Stream JD McPherson's new album on NPR.org.

 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.

Jimmy Sutton / Courtesy of the artist

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

Folk Alley and NPR Music recently returned to Nashville to present a webcast of the Americana Music Association's 12th Annual Honors and Awards ceremony from the historic Ryman Auditorium.