Album reviews: Recent and recommended for March
J.D. McPherson, Kingsley Flood and the Juliana Hatfield Three all have recent discs worth taking for a spin.
J.D. McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll” (Rounder Records)
“Let The Good Times Roll” isn’t just an album -- it’s a time machine, one that transports you to an echoey 1950s rec room in somebody’s parents’ basement, complete with Brylcreem, a suitcase record player and girls in skintight pedal pushers. There are worse places to be.
But it’s worth noting that McPherson doesn’t devote himself to a slavish recreation of 1950s rock ’n’ roll sound. Instead, he draws on the era’s vibe for another collection that feels both old and new, full of quavery guitar, honking horns and crisp, snappy percussion. Not to mention his vocals, which have the same rockabilly charm as on his 2010 debut album “Signs & Signifiers,” but with an even smoother, more soulful delivery -- sort of like Clyde McPhatter if he’d been produced by Sam Phillips.
That’s not to say the full-out rock ‘n’ roll elements aren’t there, too -- you don’t name an album “Let The Good Times Roll” without throwing a party somewhere in there. The title track isn’t a cover of the 1956 Shirley & Lee classic, but it takes that track’s celebratory charm and raises it several degrees into the realm of joyous, hand-clapping jam.
Probably not surprisingly for an artist who cites a steady diet of Clash records among his formative influences, some more modern sounds (mostly of the alt-rock and punk variety) definitely weave their way through the album. In that regard, “Let the Good Times Roll” is the best kind of tribute to the early rock ’n’ roll era, because it doesn’t really feel like one -- it’s just a great record, period.
Kingsley Flood, “To The Fire”
Kingsley Flood’s self-released new EP “To The Fire” is very much a worthy follow-up to the band’s last full-length LP, 2013’s “Battles” -- the tight, raucous folk-punk instrumentation, compelling backing harmonies (ably provided by Jenee Morgan) and impassioned, raspy lead vocals from frontman Naseem Khuri are all present and accounted for.
But that’s not to say it suffers from sameness: Following their Americana-tinged debut “Dust Windows” in 2010, Kingsley Flood’s sound has bloomed into an almost unclassifiable indie rock melange of styles and influences, and the band remains all the more surprising -- and listenable -- because of it.
In particular Khuri, with his fiery, almost Strummer-esque delivery, continues to stand out in an indie landscape of one-too-many emo crooners -- on top of George Hall’s unerringly complementary guitar work, he propels tracks like the chugging “Thick Of It” into mid-’70s live Dylan territory, drawing out syllables (“now we’re in the thick of iiiiiiiiit, oh boy”) in a rollicking spirit of controlled frenzy.
But what continues to separate Kingsley Flood from the pack, both in general and on “To The Fire,” are Khuri’s lyrics, awash as they are in the struggle, regret and resignation that make up real-world lives.
The Juliana Hatfield Three, “Whatever, My Love” (American Laundromat Records)
The latest from ’90s alt-darling Hatfield -- which reunites The Juliana Hatfield Three (Hatfield plus drummer Todd Phillips and bassist Dean Fisher) for the first time since 1993’s breakout “Become What You Are” -- is a modern marvel that’s sure to delight the faithful. True to her original sound, it’s a punky, funny return to form that still manages to sound up to date.
Hatfield’s lyrics remain almost uniformly evocative: “Take the push pin out of my cranium,” she demands on “Push Pin,” addressing a walking, talking headache in the album’s most strident rant. Men, it seems, aren’t making her feel any more comfortable than they did in 1993: “You make me feel invisible,” she sings on the rhythmic, alterna-poppy album opener “Invisible,” and on “Now That I Have Found You,” her newfound relationship doesn’t exactly provide closure -- “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she admits.
The album’s standout is probably “I’m Shy,” a plainspoken, grungy ode to introversion. “Even inebriated I got no confidence,” she laments matter-of-factly, before busting out a chorus that consists of her singing “I’m shy” over and over again, drawing “shy” out into four syllables in a way that makes your gut ache.
Maybe it’s ’90s nostalgia -- which I’m told is actually a thing now -- but I don’t think it’s just fond memories of earlier work that makes “Whatever, My Love” so satisfying. It more than stands on its own as a wry, uncompromising, unapologetically jangly take on living with the general discomfort that comes along with being a modern human.
Full-length versions of these reviews appeared on Pete’s Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog at northofboston.wickedlocal.com/section/blogs. Follow Peter Chianca on Twitter at @pchianca or email him at email@example.com.