Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “North Side Gal” by JD McPherson from the 2010 album Signs & Signifiers on Hi-Style Records.
If you played “North Side Gal,” today’s featured song, by JD McPherson (or any of McPherson’s other songs, for that matter) for someone and told them that they had to bet their life on whether it was recorded in 1958 or 2010, it’s a safe bet that almost every person polled would end up dead. His debut album, Signs & Signifiers, was released in October of 2010 and is full of throwback “rock ‘n roll” that could easily serve as the soundtrack to a night of cruising down Main Street in the convertible before hitting up a drive-in movie. McPherson seems like such a product of the ’50s generation, that when reading about his humble beginnings in Oklahoma as the son of a farmer and a preacher, I was taken aback when his bio casually mentioned Talking Heads and Bad Brains as influences. It would have been tantamount to watching a version of Cash that has Joaquin Phoenix, hooked on painkillers and depressed over Reese Witherspoon, suddenly turning to the music of Joy Division and The Cure to cope.
Despite a few alternative influences, JD McPherson is a rock ‘n roll purist in the mold of Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis. His songs are simple, rollicking, catchy, and about as “roots” as it can get, completely unaware of any stylistic or technological developments that have taken place over the past 50 years. Even McPherson’s voice has a nostalgic, guttural soulfulness that seems tailor-made to send hordes of modestly dressed, black-and-white teenage girls into hysterics on American Bandstand or some such show. McPherson’s lyrics deal with a culture long gone, as well. In “Nickles and Dimes,” he mentions Chevys and Cadillacs, and on “B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R.,” he sings about needing to “get another note of that sweet rock ‘n roll” like the genre is a brand new phenomenon considered sinful by the establishment. Though every aspect of his music is an anachronism in 2011 (even by “roots” standards), good music is good music, and McPherson’s impeccably structured, passionately executed rock n’ roll isn’t a cheap imitation, but a joyful reclamation of the spirit of the forefathers of rock ‘n roll.
JD McPherson just wrapped up a tour of middle America and, as of now, the only other date on his schedule is an April 7th show in Las Vegas. Check back with his website for updates. Hopefully, he’ll make his way up to Seattle at some point in the not too distant future; McPherson and the Tractor Tavern would be a match made in heaven.