Paul Lester, Featured Writer, The Guardian UK
There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in JD McPherson’s world. Not surprising given he refuses to let anything created since 1958 impinge on it
Hometown: Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The lineup: JD McPherson (lead and backing vocals, guitar), Jimmy Sutton (bass), Alex Hall (drums, piano, organ).
The background: Tom Waits, Nick Lowe and John Prine are big fans of his – you should know that about JD McPherson at the start. And he comes from Oklahoma but doesn’t sound much like the Flaming Lips. We tell you the first fact in case you’re dissuaded early on from investigating this latterday, reincarnated rockabilly guy, and the second fact is instructive if you happen to believe all music from that state sounds like Wayne Coyne and friends. To be honest, anyone expecting the follow-up to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pts 1 and 2 – or anything sounding remotely new – from this new artist should probably alight here.
No, think Elvis Presley’s output before he joined the army for some idea of what’s going down on Signs and Signifiers, the debut album from this former punk rocker and Tulsa schoolteacher who exchanged the electric guitar, and classroom, for a life singing the gospel according to Sam Phillips and his million-dollar proteges. Everything on the album was played on guitars, piano, upright bass and saxophones and recorded using analogue equipment, including vintage microphones and a 1960s Berlant tape machine. For McPherson the “fidelity” in “lo-fi” stands for the loyalty he feels to pre-Beatles pop, when rock was still known as rock’n’roll. “I have recorded this style of music in the digital realm, and it just doesn’t quite ‘sing’ as much,” he has said. “Slamming that quarter-inch tape really hard produced the most beautiful distortion I’ve ever heard.”
The only thing that jars about this whole enterprise is the title of that album. Signs and Signifiers? It’s like coming across an old Jerry Lee Lewis album called Semiotics and the Saussurian Tradition. Apart from that, it’s original rock’n’roll all the way. There have been a few r’n’r-referencing types lately, such as Willy Moon and Dirty Beaches, but they offer a twist on the music, in the vein of Alan Vega of Suicide and his “sci-fi Elvis” persona. This is much straighter stuff – straighter even than the Stray Cats or the Polecats or any of those early-80s revivalists, who had a certain punkish sensibility or attitude about them. Most of these tracks could be versions of classics (two of them actually are covers) or are written and produced as strict period homages. The only time the “modern” world impinges is when the guitar figure rumbles throughout the title track, which is redolent of the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now – turns out McPherson’s three all-time heroes are Little Richard, Joe Strummer and Morrissey-Marr. The rest is pure ancient history. It’s kind of cute, not to say a little weird that a twentysomething would want to worship a bygone era so slavishly. Still, if it worked for Imelda May …
The buzz: “He’s unique not because he sounds unlike anything to ever be part of the music world, but because he sounds like nothing that exists in the music world today” – Reviewsic.
The truth: They’ll love him on This Morning or Daybreak, if there still is a Daybreak.
Most likely to: Use Brylcreem.
Least likely to: Make futurists scream.
What to buy: Signs and Signifiers is released on 7 May.
File next to: Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Imelda May.
Source: The Guardian UK