J.D. McPherson, Signs & Signifiers. Break down the door, kick out the windows, then turn off the lights, because J.D. McPherson is here to take rock and roll to the center of the earth and never come back. This is music to twist the mind and turn the heart to molten ore, and even if the songs sound like they come from a half-century ago it doesn't matter. At the end of it all, McPherson comes from today because he's got a hellacious spirit that cannot be stopped and has no use at all for rear-view mirrors. Elvis Presley was right: the future looks bright ahead.
When album opener "North Side Gal" kicks off it feels like a boisterous new day has begun. There is such a sense of excitement captured inside the music McPherson writes and sings that every single note feels electric. The crowning achievement, though, is how so many different styles get covered, from a cover of "Country Boy" and "Your Love (All That I'm Missing)" to the dark brooder "A Gentle Awakening." This is no rockabillathon out to recapture the glory of Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran, but rather a young artist who has rockin' on his mind and rollin' in his bones.
Whether he's zeroing in on Little Richard's rigorous bump or Roy Brown's rollicking ride, or even Lightnin' Slim's swampy exhortations, this young singer-songwriter has discovered a direct line to musical divinity. J.D. McPherson is from Oklahoma and it shows, because there comes a moment in the life of a rock and roller where the bona fides earned by being born and raised in the South cannot be learned. It's in the bloodlines and that's that. This man is all that, and so much more.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Here. When the harmonic convergence winds start howling loud, chances are they're coming out of Ojai, California. There is something about that sleepy burg which carries the power of the cosmic, whether it's in the hills surronding the town or just the park in the middle. Things are going on there, and it's not always easy to see them. But they're happening, and the way vibrations whip through the streets and make the trees rustle with a distinctive bend, that feeling is impossible to ignore. Sit around the fountain in beautiful downtown Ojai and watch the smiling citizens pass the day and it's easy to forget it's 2012. And who knows? Maybe it's really not.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are Ojai's house band. They are a communal bunch at heart, and while lead singer Alex Ebert seems the obvious leader, this is a musical world where leaders aren't really called for. The eight-person group have thrown in all the way together, and there is no mistaking when that happens. The songs take on an overpowering glow, and the ebb and flow of the players as they make their joyous noise feels like a wave of love. Singer Jade Castrinos jumps in with just enough sass to make the Birkenstocks keep moving, and the other members meld into one on songs like "Man on Fire," "I Don't Wanna Pray," "One Love to Another" and "Fiya Wata." Soundwise, think what Phil Spector might have sounded like if he had taken up with psychedelics instead of pistols. The Magnetic Zeros have found that source, and the way they unashamedly press full force into the ozone is something to behold.
Here is the band's second album, and they've found new pages from the same hymnal as their debut, which means the inner gyroscope which centers Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is even stronger than the first time around. How can you not love an album produced at a studio nicknamed the Ed Shed in Ojai, and then finished in Bogalusa, Louisiana? The rays of sunshine spreading outward from each song point the way forward, and in a time when so much of the world looks like it's spinning out of control, just maybe this music can make a true difference. It's like the man said in the film Greaser's Palace: "If you feel, you're healed." The line starts right here.
Rob Jonvanovic, Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground. Where o' where is the great biography of the most influential rock and roll band of all time? Every time a new tome is published, breath gets held with high hopes this will be the time that everything comes together and the real story, a tower of strength in a time of turmoil, gets told. And while each and every book about the band offers insight and even inspiration, the mother lode still remains largely undermined.
Rob Jonvanovic clearly has the best of intentions in writing about the Velvet Underground. His love of the music is ever present, and the deep curiosity necessary to try and find out what really happened is unmistakeable. But still the story eludes him. Maybe that's because he relies so heavily on already-used sources, or more likely it's because Lou Reed remains largely mum. Not being one to cooperate too freely with the press, Reed is saving his story for another day. Velvetites can only hope that day will finally come.
When the Velvet Underground aura is tallied, consider they only recorded 35 songs spread over four albums in as many years. From less than three dozen originals, Reed, Nico (on the debut album), Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Maureen Tucker and later Doug Yule helped create entire musical movements, from glam to punk to alternative and beyond. No one, not even the Beatles, ever did more for rock and roll. Surely there is a writer of gifted scope who will take on the Velvet Underground's fine, fine music. Until then, Jack is in his corset and Jane is in her vest, and we're still standing on the corner suitcase in our hand.