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May 29, 2012 / jhsaeger

J.D. McPherson’s Signs & Signifiers

     The little promo sticker on J.D. McPherson’s Signs & Signifiers quotes NPR’s proclamation that the album was “engineered to restore your faith in rock & roll.” I, for one, have always kept the faith, but McPherson’s record is a lively shot in the arm. Instead of neo-soul or a Laurel Canyon revival that has been in vogue lately, Signs & Signifiers is more neo-Sun Studio. The record blends several different styles of early rock together in a throwback effort where there is a little Elvis, some Jerry Lee Lewis, and shades of Bill Haley, as well as spot-on songwriting from McPherson.
     Originally released in 2010 on a small indie label, Signs & Signifiers was reissued on April 17 by the much more impactful Rounder Records label. McPherson, who carved his niche in music as the lead singer of the Starkweather Boys, hails from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The 12-track record is not just rehashed rock ‘n roll that copies previous styles, but instead contains fun, energetic songwriting with fresh music whose influences have never really been deemed passé.
     The record hooks the listener in from the outset of the first song, “North Side Gal,” where McPherson trips over a love in his lyrics, “Old beat up guitars and old sleazy dives/every song I sing… it swings about a North side gal.” After a cover of the 1949 Little Jimmy Dickens song “Country Boy,” the pounding Lewis-like keyboards of McPherson’s lively “Fire Bug” lead to one of the album’s most explosive guitar parts.
    As the record progresses, McPherson’s love for North Side Gals may have returned to haunt the songwriter in the catchy “Dimes For Nickles” where he writes, “It’s a lotta hard work to keep a satisfied woman/Two Timin’ Sally took my time/Evil Annie took my soul/but if you don’t keep your hands out of my back pocket, you’re gonna take all of my dough.”
    Other great tracks on Signs & Signifiers include “A Gentle Awakening” and “B.G.M.O.S.N.R.”
    The instrumental parts on Signs & Signifiers are a very key part of McPherson’s sound that helps infuse so much energy into the record. Not only are McPherson’s guitar bits stripped down to fit the style of music, but the backing horn sections that dot the record and the Scott Ligon’s Lewis-like piano also throw the audience back into 1955 in a way that few rising musicians have managed to work while using contemporary influences. It’s a fun record in the same vein of Nick Waterhouse and Fitz and the Tantrums: you can’t love what you hear from beginning to end. 
     Signs & Signifiers is available as a digital download, cd, and vinyl. J.D. McPherson is currently in the middle of a North American tour that will include a two-day swing at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, New Jersey. 

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