It’s hard to know where to start when talking about JD McPherson’s record, Signs and Signifiers– Sean Moeller over at Daytrotter released a session today and his essay focused on the overall effect of the music. There’s a lot about these songs that’s old-fashioned– not just the sound, but the lyrics. This record is hard, fast, loud, and very much influenced by early ’50s rock ‘n roll. I love everything about the way it feels. And like Sean says, there’s an old fashioned notion about the women in McPherson’s songs– one that hearkens back to “Devil With a Blue Dress”. And maybe that’s part of what’s so attractive: this is music that I’ve been listening to in some form or fashion for my entire life. It’s a relief to put on.
Download “North Side Gal” here
I’ve talked about “North Side Gal” before, but it bears repeating: this is one of the best lead-off singles I’ve heard in a long time. It’s got the energy and power of a Little Richard song, but it’s nice to be able to listen to something that feels classic all while learning a new song. It’s activating both the nostalgia and excitement centers of my brain– something that’s hard to do in the same song. The record slams from “North Side Gal” into a righteous cover of Tiny Kennedy’s “Country Boy” (which explains some of the more antiquated lyrics)– showing off McPherson’s skills with arrangement. The horn section in the bridge of this song is absolutely filthy; low and loud. I love everything about the way this song comes together, and I keep finding myself hitting repeat.
The Daytrotter session that came out today is wonderful, and I recommend you check it out, if for no other reason than the song he starts the session with, “Abigail Blue,” isn’t on the record– and it makes reference to party lines. (We are talking that much of a throwback.) It’s kind of hard to believe this soul sound is coming out of a young former art teacher from Broken Arrow, OK. McPherson also sang what is, so far, my favorite track on the record– “Firebug”.
This song is hard and fast, and pretty immediately explains Moeller’s excellent essay about how the women in McPherson’s songs come across: with lyrics like, “Burn it up, burn it down, let her burn across the town/ my heart will catch on fire when my firebug’s around” and “she strung me out and left me up like Christmas in July,” McPherson paints the picture of someone who is pure energy– sometimes destructive, sometimes beautiful. If the woman in the song is a fire, McPherson’s song is the oxygen at the top of the room; there’s just enough jangle and space in these songs that they seem to exist almost independently of the rest of the music being made right now. There’s some kind of rock ‘n roll bubble around McPherson: I don’t know why no one else is recording songs that sound like this, but I’m happy someone’s doing it.
McPherson’s voice is deep and fearless– he tackles difficult arrangements and volumes with seeming ease. Songs like “A Gentle Awakening,” which is slowed down and focuses on a softer key arrangement than a lot of the other songs, really show off his vocal ability. He’s got a deep resonance to his voice, and he’s easy to listen to. And though this is the first time I’ve mentioned them, the keys shine through the whole record. They were an indelible part of the music of this era, and McPherson uses them to his advantage.
FIND JD MCPHERSON ONLINE:
OR CATCH HIM ON TOUR:
October 9 Horseshoe Toronto, ON