I recently wrote the following piece for Laundromatinee, a site here in Indianapolis where we regularly record and film our favorite indie acts as they roll through the Circle City. JD McPherson played the Do317 Lounge for a PBR Presents session, and my talented Laundromatinee friends are responsible for the great sound (Jeff DuPont) and visual presentation (Derik Savage, Christina Reid, Doug Fellegy) of the performance.
To watch JD McPherson’s PBR Presents performance of “North Side Gal,” “Dimes For Nickels,” and “Carol” from the Do317 Lounge, head on over to Laundromatinee.com.
There’s no arguing against Broken Arrow, Oklahoma native JD McPherson having been cut from a cloth. Fortunately for us, that cloth is the sort of sweat-soaked, whiskey-stained garment that has lined the pockets of worn denim and wiped thick brows toiling in the midday sun, on factory lines, and behind roadhouse bars for generations. It’s an inherently American fabric composed of the touchstones of rock and roll as we know it with stalwart fibers of timeless power.
The sounds of JD McPherson are indebted to the rock and roll luminaries who have lived on for generations with no surname necessary: Buddy, Chuck, Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee, Ray, Little Richard, Ike, Fats. Critics haven’t been shy about deriding artists with allegiances to such heroes with words like retro, vintage and nostalgic. Screw them.
As a fan, there’s never good reason to second-guess your love for any type of impassioned rock and roll played damn well with a hell of a lot of soul. Just be thankful there’s a man around like JD McPherson who loves it as much as you do and who is willing to write such undeniably winning tunes at the risk of being typecast as retro. McPherson isn’t one to shy away from his backstory: former art teacher and punk (reared on Bad Brains and Pixies) in Oklahoma who became enraptured with Buddy Holly after a double-album of Holly’s Decca recordings fell into his hands thanks to a girl at his favorite OK record store.
On his debut album, Signs & Signifiers (released in 2010 on Hi-Style Records and re-released this year to broader audiences thanks to Rounder Records), McPherson struts on the very musical foundation his heroes chiseled underfoot generations ago, and he populates that rich terrain with twelve outstanding tunes worthy of the heritage. Songs like “North Side Gal,” “Fire Bug,” and the barn-burning “Wolf Teeth” sound as fantastic in 2012 as they would have had Sam Phillips recorded them at Sun Records in 1955. Better yet, I’ve got a twenty in my pocket that says they’ll sound just as perfect in 2055 should I be around to hear them when the time comes. Maybe guys like McPherson and me are naïve for championing the men who started it all, men wrote songs with the abundance of soul and musicianship able to outlive them by decades. I choose to believe when I roll into that hypothetical roadhouse honky tonk or greasy spoon in 2055, the most transparent music trends of 2012 (dubstep and EDM, anyone?) will be the ones that seem antiquated and relegated to a specific point in time, not McPherson’s music. I’ll refuse to believe rock & roll and skillful rhythm & blues will ever cease to be an essential part of American culture. I assume JD McPherson agrees with me, and it’ll be thanks to musicians and songwriters like him that we’ll be so lucky.
For this Laundromatinee / PBR Lounge Session at Do317 Lounge, McPherson and his band delivered three standout tunes that deliver on all the promise of the Oklahoma rocker’s debut album. It’s fitting that McPherson worked “Carol,” a rollicking Chuck Berry classic, into the set alongside Signs & Signifiers tunes “North Side Gal” (the album’s fantastic opener and lead single) and “Dimes For Nickels.” With guitar in hand and a crackerjack band beside him on upright bass, drums, and piano, McPherson dishes out a caliber of rock and roll satisfaction that’s worthy of his heroes. In “Dimes For Nickels,” McPherson sings of rockin’ nights, workin’ days, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Sauvignon Blanc, and black Johnnie Walker before delivering the warning to his woman, “If you don’t keep your hands out of my back pocket, you’re gonna take all my dough.” This is the stuff that comprises the very DNA of rock and roll, blues, and R&B; And, like the greats, McPherson knows just how much “hard work it is to keep a satisfied woman.” Whiskey, women, cars, paychecks, and second jobs: these staples are the plots and the plights of the classic, American male protagonist on record, on film, and in print.
These stories and characters may not be the hottest sellers at every given moment, but they’ve never lost an ounce of their luster. If there’s ever an America with no place for the music of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly or songs about rugged, red-blooded men, faithful and unfaithful women, and all the woes, splendor, and miscommunication that comes with the territory, then such is a place I have no intention of calling home.
JD McPherson’s Signs & Signifiers is out now on Rounder Records.
*This post first appeared on Laundromatinee.com.
Justin works as a content producer for ChaCha in Indianapolis during the day. He got his start writing music pieces with Laundromatinee in Indianapolis, where he still makes featured contributions. Justin resides in Noblesville, IN, and his personal blog, Division St. Harmony, can be found at www.divisionstharmony.tumblr.com.
His first loves in music have long been The Clash, Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. His personal tastes are fairly broad and include garage, indie rock, classic rock, Americana, roots, outlaw and classic country, punk, blues, rhythm and blues and soul.
Justin takes pride in an affinity for writing and music that is both rich in head and heart. Justin welcomes you to follow him on Twitter at @clashrebel and on Facebook.
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