Trumpeted by the flagship single "North Side Gal," JD McPherson burst onto the roots music scene in 2010 with his debut album, Signs & Signifiers. Blessed with an angelically resonant voice and a vintage analog production sound (the latter courtesy of bassist/collaborator/studio guru Jimmy Sutton), McPherson had boiled his take on rock & roll down to the essentials. Using those timeless elements, combined with his literate, art school-informed songwriting aesthetic (he carries an M.F.A. from the University of Tulsa), McPherson at once codified and recontextualized a purist mid-century ethos that had been brewing among rockabilly, old-school R&B, and car-culture fanatics since at least the 1980s. All of which brings us to his sophomore full-length album, 2015's Let the Good Times Roll. Produced by Mark Neill (who previously helmed similarly inclined albums from the Paladins, Los Straitjackets, and the Black Keys), Let the Good Times Roll is a purposeful companion piece to Signs & Signifiers, showcasing a bigger, more dynamic sound than its predecessor, full of atmospheric plate reverb, juke-joint rhythms, spine-tingling piano lines, verdant horn sections, and even more densely packed guitar twang and strut. And, as always, at the center is McPherson's voice, a wailing croon that sounds as contemporary as Bruno Mars, even as it raises the romantic specter of Jackie Wilson. It's this ability to reference the past (even his own recent past) while remaining firmly lodged in the present that colors everything McPherson does. Even the Dan Auerbach co-write "Bridgebuilder" sounds improbably like an '80s blue-eyed soul song by Britain's Squeeze if recorded in Memphis in 1958. The juxtaposition is explicit in the album's title track, as easily a reference to Louis Jordan's 1946 classic as to the Cars' 1978 single. The song even finds McPherson repurposing the roiling, triplet snare-drum intro of "North Side Gal," in what amounts to a postmodern nod to pop culture sequelization and a direct response to the overwhelming success of Signs & Signifiers. He's basically saying "Y'all remember this? Well, let's keep this party going!" Despite that sentiment, however, the album doesn't rely solely on uptempo rippers à la "North Side Gal." The heart of Let the Good Times Roll lies more in the slinky, midtempo, hip-grinding quality of cuts like "It's All Over But the Shouting," "Head Over Heels," and "Shy Boy." And it's not just McPherson's vocals or arranging skills that raise the bar, as he turns traditional rock lyrics into poetry on "It Shook Me Up," opining in his best Little Richard snarl, "Didn't do nothing but hem and haw/Didn't stick a piece of paper in the Wailing Wall/And I didn't find a stranger worth talking to/And I didn't get some time with you." Let the Good Times Roll is definitely the second coming of the rock & roll savior that fans prayed would follow Signs & Signifiers. And as the title implies, it's also one hell of a good time.
Let the Good Times Roll Review
by Matt Collar