JD McPherson album review: ‘Signs and Signifiers’
JD MCPHERSON “Signs & Signifiers” Kindred spirits: Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley Show: With Jason Ager on Monday at Iota. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. 703-522-8340. www.iotaclubandcafe.com. $12.
To call JD McPherson’s debut album retro is an understatement. His old-time rockabilly tunes on “Signs & Signifiers” evoke poodle skirts and slicked back hair and kids swinging to his tunes on wooden gym floors.
The album, which was re-released on Rounder Records in April, opens with the rousing “North Side Gal,” the tune that first garnered McPherson an online following a couple of years ago. The song’s simple blues chord progression and unpretentious lyrics are interrupted only by classic sounding saxophone and guitar solos that will take a listener back to the Surf Ballroom circa 1959.
“Your Love (All That I’m Missing)” showcases a horn section as McPherson sings, “Up in my ’59, I drive around the town / I’ll pretend you’re in it.” McPherson, who was a middle school art teacher from Oklahoma before becoming a full-time musician, recorded the album with vintage mikes and a 1960s-era tape machine. Similar to old rock-and-roll records, the album sounds as if the band is in the same room with the listener, and the vocals are recorded louder than anything else.
While McPherson’s boogie-woogie music is obviously reminiscent, he manages to keep it sounding sincere and authentic at the same time. His growling vocals coupled with his twangy Telecaster guitar on songs such as “I Can’t Complain” feel fresh. That may be because he and his bandmates are great musicians taking ownership of a sound, not just mimicking one.
— Moira E. McLaughlin