Album Review: JD McPherson – Let the Good Times Roll

For music to retain its vital edge, it must keep pushing forward. Trying new things, seeking out new songs; those are key to music remaining vital. It’s a clumsy metaphor, but music is like a shark: it simply has to keep moving. When things get moribund, eventually something comes along to give music a swift kick up the arse (so to speak). It happened with punk, in many ways a reaction to “corporate rock” of the 70s (and not, I’d argue, so much as a reaction to arty/progressive music; think of how many so-called punks were art school students, how many liked, say, Can, even if they didn’t admit it).

But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional look back over one’s musical shoulder, a revisiting of the sounds and musical aesthetics of the past. The value of such an approach is evident in some ways through the current resurgence of popularity of “classic soul.” It wasn’t that many years ago that a band like Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, or Lee Fields couldn’t get a headlining gig. But now they do, and the music scene is far better for it being so.

Back in early 2010 I reviewed a thrilling album by former Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Nick Curran: his Reform School Girls was a knowing pastiche of the rawest 50s sounds, filtered through a modern (postpunk) sensibility. Sadly, Curran passed away far too young, leaving that album as his final recorded musical statement.

Happily, however, there’s another musician of note who’s covering similar (but not identical) musical ground today. JD McPherson‘s Let the Good Times Roll is another slab of musical red meat. I missed him on his recent swing through Asheville, but Let the Good Times Roll is pretty exciting for a studio recording. On this, McPherson’s sophomore release, the wild and reckless feel of early rock’n’roll (as captured on the essential Loud, Fast & Out of Control box set) is brought forth largely intact to the second decade of the 21st century, informing the music with a knowledge and understanding of all the hard rock that came in the wake of those early pioneers.

As such, Let the Good Times Roll is more timeless than retro-minded. And though its overall feel is decidedly uptempo, not every track is balls-out rocking. Among the subtle numbers is the standout “Bridgebuilder,” which shows the influence of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and the like. The production aesthetic on Let the Good Times Roll does sometimes recall Phil Spector or Shadow Morton (or Sun Studios) at times, but even on that score McPherson somehow updates and modernizes things.

But mostly, McPherson and his bandmates do indeed rock. And their brand of rock owes a lot to the crazed, hi-octane style of Little Richard. There’s no denying the timeless appeal of “It Shook Me Up,” with its impossibly low, rubbery and twangy lead guitar solo. But the diamond-hard rocking guitar on “Head Over Heels” (decidedly not the Tears for Fears tune) owes as much to The Stooges, MC5 or New York Dolls as any 50s rocker.

Simply put, there are no weak tracks on Let the Good Times Roll. From the opening title track to its end, it’s a solid collection of tunes and performances, the sort of which might make you (like me) regret having missed a chance to check out JD McPherson live onstage. And speaking of the last track, “Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout the All American” is – as I rediscover reading the liner notes booklet – “dedicated to the memory of Nick Curran: guitar hero, teen idol, true rock n’ roller, and friend.”

JD McPherson’s Let the Good Times Roll is highly recommended, and it’s an early contender for best album of 2015.

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