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Album Review: JD McPherson – Undivided Heart & Soul

 
By on Friday, 27th October 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

JD McPherson UHS album coverHeader photo by Alysse Gafkjen

American retro-rock singer/songwriter JD McPherson recently released a new solo album, ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’. It’s an interesting title, for an artist who dabbled in cattle ranching earned a Master’s degree in visual arts before settling on a career in music. But now three albums in, McPherson has apparently decided that music is his permanent gig, and he’s gone all-in on this 11-track sojourn.

Prior to starting work on ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’, McPherson picked up and moved his family to Nashville from their hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The move put McPherson in close proximity to a variety of collaborating musicians, and the album features contributions from Parker Millsap and Aaron Lee Tasjan, along with the influences of longtime friend Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and album co-producer Dan Molad. But the move didn’t come without an element of added pressure. “This record was difficult for me to make, difficult to write, difficult to record”, McPherson says in the album’s press release. “It took a lot for me to say that I can’t force these songs to be the way people are expecting.”

The album begins with essentially the kind of retro r&b feel that McPherson’s audience might well have predicted, with the head-on intensity and gritty guitars of ‘Desperate Love’ and the shuffling rockabilly of Butch Walker co-write ‘Crying’s Just a Thing You Do’. On closer inspection, however, the latter track is notably more emotionally complex in its lyrics, and the heavy guitar riff in the bridge section is a startling but welcome surprise.

In contrast, early single ‘Lucky Penny’, is decidedly edgier, taking on a modern blues rock feel in the vein of the Black Keys; a sharp and persistent guitar riff underscores McPherson’s ironic lament, “this lucky penny’s been nothing but bad luck”. Title track ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’ is similarly modern in its fuzzy, muted production, but its lyrics retain an old-fashioned, almost quaint sort of quality: “left alone and unrequited / I require your undivided . . . heart and soul”.

Most of the album’s second half harks back to McPherson’s more familiar classic rock ’n’ roll style. ‘Hunting for Sugar’ and ‘Jubilee’ are both is slow ballads that somewhat oddly reminded me of Leon Bridges‘ old school aesthetic, but without the smooth, suave vocal delivery. ‘Bloodhound Rock’ leans heavily back into the retro r&b vibe and feels infinitely more authentic to McPherson’s own natural tendencies.

Final tracks ‘Under the Spell of City Lights’ and ‘Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Still Young’ both take on an edgier tone, the former in a gritty, classic rock ’n’ roll style and the latter with an almost psychedelic twist to the guitar sounds. Cowritten with McPherson’s wife Mandy, ‘Let’s Get Out of Here While We’re Still Young’ cuts to straight to the omnipresent contradiction in McPherson’s anachronistic approach: “we’ve worn out all the songs we’ve sung / come on, honey, let’s get out of here while we’re young”.

Though McPherson is technically adept in both styles, he never quite bridges the gap between studiously retrospective and self-consciously modern. His lack of clear commitment in either direction is perhaps the album’s only downfall. It’s striking that the songs on ‘Undivided Heart & Soul’ don’t inspire the same level of emotional investment from the listener that McPherson clearly made in writing and recording them, despite his very obvious best efforts. Still, the album is generally energetic and enjoyable. If you’re already a JD McPherson fan, you’ll find it to be a nice extension of his work.

7.5/10

‘Undivided Heart and Soul’, JD McPherson’s third studio album, is out now on New West Records. TGTF’s past coverage of McPherson is back through here.

 

JD McPherson / June 2015 English Tour

 
By on Wednesday, 1st April 2015 at 9:00 am
 

Oklahoma singer/songwriter JD McPherson has announced three live dates in the UK, following the release of his latest album ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, released back in February on Rounder Records. Below the tour date listing, you can watch the video for album track ‘It’s All Over but the Shouting’.

Tickets for the following live dates are available now. Previous TGTF coverage of JD McPherson can be found here.

Tuesday 16th June 2015 – London Koko
Wednesday 17th June 2015 – Manchester Academy 2
Thursday 18th June 2015 – Brighton Concorde 2

[youtube]https://youtu.be/XNvkkXyRo3U[/youtube]

 

Great Escape 2012: Final thoughts and Day 3 Evening Roundup – 12th May 2012

 
By on Thursday, 31st May 2012 at 1:00 pm
 

After a happy meetup with my NYC PR friend Marni and some finger food from the final press reception of this year’s Great Escape, I was on my own again. As a wheat allergy sufferer, finding food to go can be a bit of a challenge; for example, pasties aren’t too good for my body, and neither are sandwiches. I can have an occasional hamburger bun, but I try to avoid bread and pasta where I can. Knowing I had hours ahead of me for my last night at the festival, I decided to duck into the Yo Sushi! across the street from the Hub that I’d been eyeing for days. After a particularly unsuccessful time – I guess Brighton’s locals aren’t fans of raw fish, as I only managed 2 plates of salmon sushi after sitting there for 40 minutes – I up and went. Gutted.

My evening had to be restructured entirely on the announcement that Reverend and the Makers would no longer be supporting Africa Express Soundsystem, so to this day I still have yet to set foot and cover a show in the Dome. Next year. I had a difficult choices to make: I sadly had to give a pass to Perfume Genius at St. Mary’s Church because there was no way I’d get back up to the Pavilion Theatre and get in successfully for Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, a band I’d circled in red early on as a must see. Then there was some confusion in my mind who I should see before then. In a fit of slight desperation, I started reading the band descriptions in my now dog-eared schedule book for some guidance. I’d heard of Fanzine and thought maybe going to see Novella the band before them, might be interesting. Maybe. “Encountering drone and dream-pop with the same glassy-eyed nonchalance, London trio Novella may seem dazed, but their grass-roots credentials prove they’re far from confused.” They had also graced the Dome prior to Maximo Park’s appearance on Thursday night, so I thought, hmm, that’s a plan.

The Audio sign was relatively easy to find. I breathed a sigh of relief. However, a mix of drunk stag party participants spilling out on the pavement and actual festival goers made for bewilderment requiring me to ask the two bald guys out front for help. I don’t know what is up with most of the bouncers that work the Great Escape, but geez, when a woman comes and asks you a question nicely, is it so hard to answer truthfully and without nastiness or sarcasm? I got another “there’s no way in hell you’re getting in there” kind of response. Then I asked about Above Audio. “Oh, you can go right in there. There’s no queue.” Now you’re talking my language.

Funnily enough, Above Audio was where my mate Ed and his mates had gathered. “You’re not going to like this very much,” he commented about the first act up and Brighton locals Regal Safari. He meant because they’re chillwave, and this is true, I’m not a fan of that genre. But perhaps it was all the alcohol that was flowing, but I quite enjoyed their style of dance music so much I could feel my feet, though sore, still itching to move to the beat. After the set, my friends soon departed but I wasn’t alone for long.

Suddenly it was Blog Up all over again when Shell Zenner, Mike Bradford of the Recommender, Robin of Breaking More Waves and I found ourselves in the same patch of club space. Seriously, given the number of shows happening at that very moment in Brighton, what are the odds? (Also, how do we NOT have a single photo?!?) We exchanged advice and moans of conflicts remaining for our weekends and at Robin’s advice, I stayed for Gold and Youth, a Canadian band Paul Lester has compared to Depeche Mode. They’re an electronic band but in the ‘80s sense that seems to be a nostalgic bent a lot of bands are trying to ape. Not sure if I agree with their label Arts and Crafts’ description of “neo-noir Los Angeles, cinematic haze and midnight solitudes”. But there is a definite dark, brooding nature that history has shown works extremely well with industrial synth action going hand to hand with great songwriting, and if this one performance is anything to go by, I think this band – now augmented with a female singer and bassist! – will be going places. Watch some live videp of the band below. (Sorry for the guy who was walking back and forth in front of the camera; that was their roadie and I was already taking my chances standing on the stage…that said, I have to say that I love the fact that in most UK venues, you can video as much as you please. Not the way with American venues…)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQaxepsYXqk[/youtube]

I am sure it is quite ironic, seeing that I’m an American, that I’ve not seen Howler live before. However, I shouldn’t have even bothered to head to Komedia, as it felt like the whole of Brighton descended on that very venue’s upstairs for Alabama Shakes. (Zzz.) Should I tell you what the bouncer there said to me? I should. (Incidentally, he is the same bouncer that took a horrible photo of me with the Crookes that morning and demanded 5 quid for his trouble. Very funny.) I asked where Komedia upstairs was. “You’re not getting in, it’s one in, one out now.” (Please keep in mind that I had arrived an hour before Howler was due on stage, and nearly 3 hours before Alabama Shakes’ set time.) I asked if this was the line he was giving every single punter who asked (insinuating he was just putting out false information). He gave a stern look. “No, I’ve been saying that all night to compensate for my small penis.” And there you have it, folks.

You really can’t follow that up with anything else, so I asked how the capacity for the Komedia’s Studio Bar. Wordlessly, he pointed his bald head in the direction of the door. I have no idea why Komedia downstairs doesn’t put on shows at night – they have the space, so they should, why not? – but after getting a little lost (admittedly still buzzed from the cider imbibed at Above Audio) I finally made it to catch the last couple songs of JD McPherson, who is best described as a white man having a go at being Little Richard and succeeding. After the disappointment of not getting into Howler, this was an impressive find and unlike anything I expected to hear at the Great Escape this year. I imagined this must have been the way the Beatles felt when they first heard ‘Tutti Frutti’. Watch his video for ‘North Side Gal’ below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZGn4LncY0g[/youtube]

I gave up the illusion I was getting close enough to take photos; the bar was packed full of sweaty revelers who hooted their approval for their new god. It might not have been the most inventive or original music at the festival, but who cares when you’ve got a whole room of very happy people? I was situated in the back, next to a group of girls in cute dresses and flower headband contraptions that must have taken forever to arrange. When I inquired – successfully – if they were part of a hen party and went on to declare my admiration for their outfits, I got hugs all around. Apparently they had not been treated well by the festival punters they’d spoken to, who had all declared that they were there specifically to get pissed. Their spokeswoman quickly clarified to me that it was the bride to be’s request that her hen do take place around the Great Escape because music is so important to her. That’s it. You’ve all been informed. When I’m getting married, I’m having my hen do around a music festival. That’s the way to do it!

Seeing that I had been thwarted on getting in on the venue Howler was playing way before the fact, I decided it was probably best if I stopped swanning about and headed to the Pavilion Theatre, where I would stay for the night. Not really sure how queues work for this place; maybe they counted everyone in the downstairs bar in the capacity? I arrived at the Club Uncut stage with the room half full, people sitting cross-legged on the floor while Hans Chew played. Jazz and blues are not my forte, unless there’s a definite rock ‘n’ roll edge to it (see JD McPherson above), and while he and his guitarist sounded well matched, I wasn’t feeling it.

I had another band to sit through, but “sit through” is the wrong phrase to use, because they actually got me up and hopping. Solar Bears, a Irish electronic duo, brought the beats and had me and my new friends (friends who actually enjoyed Django Django the night before and were being respectful and not shouting at each other!) and I were dancing up a storm. Yes, there were people being stupid and sitting on the floor still, but man, it was their loss. Apparently film scores and soundtracks play a big part in their musical upbringing, but I enjoyed what I considered a quite dynamic and fun electronic music experience.

Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny. Ooh. I don’t think I was adequately prepared. I was disappointed they weren’t dressed up in multi-coloured outfits. But Beth herself explained to the audience that they had just come back from a tour of Europe and were exhausted, and she was wearing a t-shirt that belonged to a bandmate and after a cursory nasal check, announced that it smelled. (Er…TMI.) When people say a woman’s voice sounds like a songbird, I usually am let down when I finally hear the woman and find she sounds nothing like a bird. Beth Jeans Houghton doesn’t sound like a bird but her operatic tones give any bird on a tree near you a run of its money. On paper, you’d think that her style of singing wouldn’t work in the pop environment, and that’s where you would be wrong. But listen to a bit of the live performance of below and decide for yourself.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BsOa7GiSgA[/youtube]

EMA followed with a down and dirty, grungey sound. And she had props! What looked like a hollowed out mirrorball hung from Erika M. Anderson’s mike stand. And for ‘Angelo’, she festooned herself with strings of lit Christmas lights; if you don’t believe me, watch the video below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWF6OvwOQuk[/youtube]

And that’s how my Great Escape ended, hanging with new friends and checking out a band I knew little about. Both things are what this festival was about. And I feel incredibly lucky I got to experience it this year, see 21 bands, and interview the Crookes. I feel quite isolated and alone in Washington, so something very special about the Great Escape was that it gave me the chance to meet so many bloggers and people involved in the music business in the welcoming realm of UK music that it gives me a fuzzy feeling just thinking about it. Same time, next year? Make mine a Kopparberg pear cider and I’ll see you down the front.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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