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.
Sometimes you don't know that you've missed something, like an old friend or a recipe tucked away in a cookbook, until it reappears just when it's needed. In August, I went to see Unwed Sailor's set in Washington, D.C., partly out of nostalgia.
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.
The Spy's Ferris O'Brien combs through hundreds of albums every year. Below are his ten favorite albums of 2014.
10. Morrissey - World Peace Is None of Your Business
Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan! But I'm also extremely critical of any Moz output. World Peace is lyrically on point, laden with wit and hooks. Easily his best since 2004's You Are the Quarry, plus it contains quite possibly one of Mozzer's best songs in years: "Staircase at the University."
Originally published on Tue January 6, 2015 7:30 pm
There was a long stretch in country music when there was no bigger star than Garth Brooks. He ruled the country charts throughout the '90s, filled stadiums, played 250 to 300 shows a year. In 2001, he called it off. He retired from the road and the studio, and went back home to Oklahoma to be a dad to his three young daughters.