Album Review: JD McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll”

Written by Album Reviews, Music

"Let the Good Times Roll," J.D. McPherson.

The best albums can take you somewhere else, and not just sonically — they’ll seem to bring you to a place you can almost feel and touch. “Let the Good Times Roll” is that kind of album, and the place it brings you (or at least me) is an echoey 1950s rec room in somebody’s parents’ basement, complete with Brylcreem, a suitcase record player and girls in skintight pedal pushers. There are worse places to be.

Like on his 2010 debut album, “Signs & Signifiers,” McPherson doesn’t devote himself to a slavish recreation of 1950s rock ’n’ roll sound. Instead, he draws on the era’s vibe for another collection that feels both old and new, full of quavery guitar, honking horns and crisp, snappy percussion. It’s the best kind of tribute to that particular era of music, because it doesn’t really feel like one — it’s just a great record, period.

As for McPherson’s vocals, they have the same rockabilly charm as on “Signs,” but with an even smoother, more soulful delivery, sort of like Clyde McPhatter if he’d been produced by Sam Phillips. The melodic ballad “Precious” is downright spiritual, and the moody, churning “Bridgebuilder” recalls Tommy Hunt and The Flamingos as it builds to a slow-dance crescendo of tinkly piano and fuzz guitar.

That’s not to say the full-out rock ‘n’ roll elements aren’t present and accounted for — you don’t name an album “Let The Good Times Roll” without throwing a party somewhere on there. The title track isn’t a cover of the 1956 Shirley & Lee classic, but it takes that track’s celebratory charm and raises it several degrees: “I drift away underneath auspicious stars,” McPherson sings winkingly as the song turns into in a joyous, hand-clapping jam.

He’s back in Little Richard-meets-Dick Dale territory for tracks like “It Shook Me Up” — “Didn’t stick a piece of paper in the Wailing Wall … And I didn’t get some time with you,” he laments to stellar surf guitar riffs — and he simply tears through album closer “Everybody’s Talking ’Bout the All-American,” a driving tribute to late rocker Nick Curran, who died of cancer at 36 in 2012.

Probably not surprisingly for an artist who cites a steady diet of Clash records among his formative influences, that track has an almost punkish undertone, and more modern sounds definitely weave their way through the album — the opening riff of “Head Over Heels” could have come off a Smithereens record. But for the most part, on “Let The Good Times Roll” McPherson provides a welcome reminder of a time when honest-to-goodness, roof-raising, backseat-romancing rock ’n’ roll was actually a thing. To thank him, make sure to play this one all the way through, and loud.