JD McPherson "Undivided Heart and Soul" album review
Roots rocker JD McPherson has always sought inspiration in the music of the past. He first turned heads in 2010 with his debut album Signs and Signifiers, where he created a unique, new brand of rock and roll using sounds pulled from the early 1950s and given a twist so that they were fresh for modern ears. He upped the ante in 2015 with the rollicking, joyous follow-up, Let the Good Times Roll, securing his place as rock’s foremost revivalist. With his new album, Undivided Heart and Soul, McPherson once again moves forward by looking back, this time tapping a vein of sultry, modish R&B, experimenting with retro influences and creating genre-defying music that is distinctly his own.
Recorded in Nashville’s famed RCA Studio B, with Dan Molad (of the indie-pop band Lucius) producing and influenced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, this entry in McPherson’s catalog is decidedly darker than the previous ones. A downtrodden loneliness winds its way through the album like a curl of smoke through an empty bar. Plaintively, he sings of desperation and sorrow, of rolling the dice and coming up short, of desire and longing for a reciprocated love. There is an intimacy to this album that we had yet to see from McPherson, and the listener suspects that he has shared more of himself with this release than he ever has. It’s honest, raw, heartrending.
But rest assured, the album doesn’t linger in the doldrums. It is, after all, a bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool, JD McPherson rock ‘n’ roll record and, as tends to happen when listening to his music, you’ll be hard pressed to keep your toes from tapping.
He comes out firing on all cylinders with the opening track, “Desperate Love,” followed by the groovy, T. Rex-y “Crying’s Just a Thing You Do.” “Lucky Penny” features one of the meanest guitar riffs in recent memory, and standout track “Bloodhound Rock” is a scorching homage to Link Wray, complete with an almost two-minute-long instrumental jam. For all its troubled angst, the album ends on a hopeful note with “Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Young,” a song (co-written by McPherson’s wife Mandy) about a couple emerging, battered and weary but together, on the other side of endured trials.
McPherson surrounded himself with a host of talented artists in the making of this record. In addition to Homme’s impact and Molad’s oversight, Butch Walker and Parker Millsap (as well as bandmates Ray Jacildo and Jason Smay, among others) share authorship of several tracks, and the new perspectives help give the album an eclectic sound that simply can’t be found anywhere else. It’s a testament to McPherson’s deft musicianship that he can continue to be influenced by the past without ever sinking into parody. Instead, he keeps growing and reaching into new, uncharted terrain, leaving the rest of us to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Undivided Heart and Soul is out October 6th!
Coverage by Colleen Martin & Rich Russo RP Russo Photography
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