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Review: Inside JD McPherson’s Fresh Rockabilly Sound on “Signs & Signifiers”

Music is a complex animal in 2011. With the Internet being the cornerstone of how most people discover and celebrate artists at this point, a lot of things can go wrong for the emerging talent of tomorrow. Things can change overnight. One day, the surging electropunk dub step of Skrillex is the new thing, but next week, bands like Das Racist are on every hipsters tongue. Music flows in tide-like patterns, and transient obsession can be fleeting.

Released in November of 2010, JD McPherson's debut album titled "Signs & Signifiers"

With this in mind, a record comes along every so often that goes the complete opposite of what’s cool and “hot” and makes a glorious noise in the process. The best thing about JD Mcpherson’s debut record “Signs and Signifiers” is that it is lacking concept in a way that only lends itself further to the craft of the album. It lacks excessive production. It’s without convoluted game playing in the name of progress.

“Signs and Signifiers” brims with honest, raw and authentic talent. Mcpherson, a Tulsa native, art teacher, and former punk, has found his voice after swimming in the shit-clogged channels of power chords and screeching feedback through applying the most basic of ideas: Go back to the roots, all the way back. “Signs and Signifiers” sounds like it happened in a pre-Beatles America that Rockabilly die-hards have been sadly trying to replicate for decades now, but with to no success outside of a cult following. Mcpherson has single-handedly changed that. His songs are clear and without trickery or studio magic. It’s classic stories about life, love, regret and failure. Topics that with the proper execution call to a certain band named Social Distortion that paved that way for this kind of plausible release.

“North Side Gal” is upbeat and features a slick Solomon Burke tone, but with so much more inner chaos, it’s a moment that takes the listener on a quick ride around the neighborhood. The song has feeling; it makes you cool in any setting, from urban decay to upscale party.

“Firebug” has burlesque written all over it. Soon enough, a ginger with a penchant for dropping her clothes will certainly end up traipsing around to its nasty rhythms.

The record has balls, and that counts. It’s something that reaches across audience lines. People of all races, ideals, and musical backgrounds can embrace “Signs and Signifiers” because it’s not padded with a slick front of throwing something back to the old school for the sake of just doing so. The record works because behind the scenes mastermind Jimmy Sutton lives and breathes what he helped create with Mcpherson, and the result is a record that actually gets better with each spin. The songs will age well because they’re free and absent of crowd pandering or pretense. Bruno Mars has talent and respectively does his thing with a clear appreciation of Doo Wop and the early street corner sound of New York City. Mcpherson is different.

His songs are fast with an unrepentant tempo, and the attitude is there. “Signs and Signifiers” is like if punk rock and classic sun recordings had a violent orgy with soul and rockabilly. It crosses lines and never sticks around for answers. The record is quick and fast, just like stripped down hot rods and fast women Mcpherson paints in the listeners mind.

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5 Legacy Comments

  • Comment by Wayne Harrison posted January 21, 2011 at 12:11

    Got the album when it came out and have been playing it non stop since then,FANTASTIC!

  • Comment by Robert Dean posted January 21, 2011 at 14:59

    I wrote this, BTW

  • Comment by Wayne Harrison posted January 25, 2011 at 10:47

    Yep..sorry! the review is great too. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

  • Comment by frank brenner posted July 03, 2011 at 18:31

    Great review. There is something special here with Mr. Mc.Pherson. I was playing this record loudly through some bustling Chicago streets and it really does feel urgent and not a throwback. McPherson’s ability as a musician, his taste, and the crack band over at Hi-style make this record a must own for any music lover. It really is a trip through American musical history with its jump blues, Chicago grit, Oklahoma country air, Louisiana shuffles, and rock and roll spirit. Thanks for a great review of a great album!