Preview Undivided Heart & Soul by JD McPherson.
Undivided Heart & Soul by JD McPherson
The impulse to categorize music—to sort artists and records into pre-determined bins—is hard to resist. Undivided Heart & Soul by JD McPherson, defies easy labeling, twisting various strands of rock and roll into a single package of heartfelt and soulful music.
McPherson has built his reputation as a songwriter and performer who draws on the 1950s rock, rockabilly and rhythm and blues for sonic inspiration. And you can hear that on this album in the blues-based bones of the songs and the heavy echo that runs throughout the recording. But as familiar as those elements might be, McPherson packs plenty of surprises into the 11 tracks on this album.
It’s hard to miss the influence of The Black Keys. The Grammy-winning band’s Dan Auerbach and McPherson are said to be friends. You certainly can hear their shared interest in a heavy garage-rock sound on “Lucky Penny” and “Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Young,” both of which pack a heavy wallop. But overall, the album’s sources of inspiration are much broader.
The first song on the album “Desperate Love” sets the tone. A chugging, chattering minor-key rhythm and blues tune, the song shares details from a tumultuous love affair. It’s a classic roots music foundation. But McPherson takes what could be a familiar formula and mixes it up. The songs’s instrumental break features a doubled guitar lead and a spectral chorus. A distorted voice mixed with a castanet sound punctuates the end of the choruses. Altogether, it creates a fresh, modern sound.
So it goes throughout the album. “Crying’s Just A Thing You Do” combines early rock and 60s pop music with sharp lyrics that remind me of Graham Parker and other Brit-rockers such as Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.
You’re at the whitest wedding / Your black is very slimming / But everybody’s staring at you. You’re sipping your Darjeeling / And staring at the ceiling / You dream about it splitting in two.
Like all those artists, McPherson builds on the “big bang” sound of Sun Records and other pioneers. For example, on the title track and “On the Lips,” you will hear xylophone, vibraphone or synthesizer offering subtle chiming counterpoint to the lead instruments. And while his songs stick to traditional topics of love and heartache, his writing is precise and evocative
McPherson also has a great voice, and he sells each song with conviction. He can wail and scream, but he can smooth out his delivery to sound like a crooner when it serves his purpose. In fact, “Hunting for Sugar” and “Jubilee,” slow tempo R&B tunes, provide a setting for him to show off his ability to channel a bit of Smokey Robinson’s silky delivery. Best of all, he delivers lyrics with an inflection that underscores meaning.
When it comes to categories, McPherson’s music is often described as rockabilly revival. That label probably fit him better on his first two records. “Bloodhound” comes closest to rockabilly style. It starts off with a jaunty instrumental shuffle before shifting into double-time for the meat of the tune.
Around about nine come and meet me on the stairs / Ain’t no secret where we’re going from there / We’re going to head around the corner and down the rabbit hole / Sniffing them blues and a little rock and roll
It’s a joyful invitation to party down on a Friday night. The song would be at home in a Beale Street club with its walking bass backbone, rolling beat, organ swells and bluesy guitar licks. It’s a highlight on an album filled with highlights.