It takes no small level of nerve to have one of your own compositions, much less your sophomore album, share its title with one of pop music’s most familiar vanguard songs. But when JD McPherson tore into the jubilant charge of “Let the Good Times Roll” last night at Willie’s Locally Known, you tended to place the classic jump blues tune of the same name on the back burner. McPherson used his song to ignite an unrelentingly potent 75 minute set where roots music styles and traditions were reassembled into a keenly crafted, sonically crisp and joyously executed sound of his own.
Some of the references were pretty exact, like the rockabilly strut that propelled “Crazy Horse” or the Coasters-meets-Beach Boys croon that warped around blasts of turbo charged guitar twang during “Bridgebuilder.” But there were also times when McPherson’s ultra-focused band zeroed in on second generation inspirations, such as the jittery chorus of “Firebug” that recalled some of Nick Lowe’s Rockpile-era music from the late ‘70s. Curiously, McPherson acknowledged the influence directly by following the tune with a cover of Lowe’s “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day,” one of the first tunes in the set to decelerate into a cooler, more contemplative groove.
Mostly, though, it was McPherson’s total reinvention of the vintage sounds that made for the performance’s most arresting moments. To that end, the show’s entire pacing came into play. This wasn’t a performance that dwelled on small talk. One song seemed to incite the next, creating a domino effect of sorts that had you absorbing its impact through clusters of tunes rather than through individual ones.
An extraordinary case in point came when the buzzsaw guitar coda from “Bridgebuilder” gave way to a bossa nova-like interlude from keyboardist Ray Jacildo. That, in turn, crashed head on into cyclical guitar riffs from McPherson and Doug Corcoran that detonated “Head Over Heels,” the least roots-savvy song of the night. The guitar maelstrom was further agitated by waves of electric fuzz bass by Jimmy Sutton, who otherwise spend the majority of the evening adding to the set’s more organic, rustic stride on acoustic upright bass.
For sheer diversion, there was the encore version of “Oil in My Lamp,” which sent this Americanized roots and rock celebration down to Jamaica for a very cool and credible serving of ska.
Expertly paced and vigorously executed with a clean but still deeply soulful sound mix to cap it all off, this one the most authoritative, efficient and seriously fun rock outings of the fall.