On his debut album, 2010’s Signs & Signifiers, JD McPherson quickly established himself as equally adept at being an old-school rockabilly roof-rattler and a first-class soul-shouter, sometimes over the course of the same song. Now, more than four years later (during which time Signifiers was rereleased on Rounder Records), the singer-songwriter-guitarist is back with a long-awaited sophomore disc that still finds him rooted in those influences, but also expanding upon them, with results that are just as exhilarating.
Let the Good Times Roll (due Feb. 10 on Rounder) is in many ways a logical extension of McPherson’s hard-charging, retro-styled debut. From the revved-up rumble of the title track — (think Eddie Cochran, only with spruced-up production) to the raucous rave-up “It Shook Me Up” (on which McPherson channels his inner Little Richard), the 11-song set contains plenty of his prior album’s kick and verve, right down to ramshackle closer “Everybody’s Talking ’Bout the All American.” It’s just that McPherson had already pretty much mastered up-tempo, hip-shaking numbers on his debut disc.
Growth as a singer
The revelations on this disc lie in the mellower material. A sweeping ballad like “Bridge Builder” — Let the Good Times Roll’s truly jaw-dropping moment, carried along by McPherson’s emotive-yet-restrained vocals (and co-written with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach) — suggests he has grown quite a bit as a singer over the four years (and tons of gigs) since Signs & Signifiers’ initial release. McPherson also seems to find a new comfort zone on another standout soulful track, “Precious,” where he stretches his pipes into darn near falsetto territory on the verses before belting out the chorus at a deeper register.
Then there’s the tight, playful groove of “Shy Boy,” where McPherson and his stellar backing band show they have a seriously funky side, too. It’s just one of many reasons why Let the Good Times Roll represents the anti-sophomore slump: The album not only confirms the critically lauded debut was no fluke, but makes it clear that the artist in question is pushing a successful formula in new directions. That is perhaps most evident on “Bridge Builder,” where, fittingly, McPherson intones, “I’ll build something that is real and true, building bridges to you.”
With his impressive second album, McPherson continues to serve not only as a bridge to rock ’n’ roll’s glorious roots, but as one of the brightest lights of its present.
— By George Henn