Signs and Signifiers, the debut album from Oklahoma musician JD McPherson has had an interesting shelf life, it was originally released on the Hi-Style label in 2010. In 2012 it was picked up for re-release by Rounder records, with a larger label behind him McPherson benefited from better promotion which saw him play live on The David Letterman Show and receive good notices in the music press. I heard about this album from Denys Williams the former owner of Hound Dogs Bop Shop who was amazed with JD's voice. This was probably sometime in 2011 and Denys was keen to bring JD out to Australia to tour, he knew JD's bass player Jimmy Sutton and had been in his ear to bring him out. Not sure what effect it had but JD will tour here next month and I'm looking forward to that gig.
Signs and Signifiers is dipped deeply in the well of old school rock and roll and rockabilly, it's a mixture of the intensity of Little Richard in full flight and the more laid back rhythms of a Fats Domino. It's an album that highlights all the great things of rock and roll and rockabilly and all the off shoots that were prominent in the late 1950's. North Side Gal has that great old slapping bass sound and a wailing JD sounds like Little Richard, he also has the guitar chops with some Scotty Moore style solos. Country Boy is slow and funky something you might have heard Elvis record at Sun studios with a heavy emphasis on that thumping bass, JD has a versatile voice making use of the lower register to emphasise that he is a good ole country boy.
Fire Bug is a storming rocker JD pouring fire with those Chuck Berry style licks combined with a pumping piano. The title track moves away from the more rock and roll style lyrics and into something deeper. It has a more percussive feel something Buddy Holly often experimented with,
I got signs and signifiers
That gossipers and liars twist me every way they wanna go
What looks like a raging fire
Are your dreams and desires
Ending up like ashes on the ground.
The album takes a dark turn with the brilliant Wolf Teeth with a manic JD sounding like a demented wolf waiting for the moon to rise,
Pay my lover girl
Pay her never mind
Don't you know I've been gnawin on bacon rind
Scratching Circles is classic old jump blues, a reminiscence of the old days in the south, the home of the chitlin circuit where every Saturday night dance floors across the south were full with people dancing to the like of Roy Brown, Amos Milburn, Big Jay McNeely etc. Dimes for Nickels takes it's cue from the Chess studio with that rolling Chick Berry beat evident. I Can't Complain has an early rock and roll feel once again sounding like it risen from Sam Phillip's studios, with some great lyrics,
My heart don't skip, my gang don't trip,
I don't get wet when I take a little dip
I can catch a couple of fish if the water don't swish.
It's difficult to take a style and adapt it to a new time without making it seem like you've heard it before, with JD you've heard it before but never like this and that is what makes this album such a great one to listen to.