His second album was always going to be the real test for JD McPherson. The Oklahoma singer was tagged as a rock ’n’ roll revivalist with his firecracker debut Signs & Signifiers, but revivalism can be a confining niche, for all its charms. McPherson shows on the follow-up that he is not about to be confined.
Let the Good Times Roll is rooted in some of the same early rock ’n’ roll and R&B sounds as its predecessor (which also drew obliquely on Wu-Tang Clan, McPherson has said), but these 11 songs are more expansive, and also more subtly daring. It’s at once a spacious record and a muscular one, driven by a tight, locked-in rhythm section that firmly anchors the songs while giving McPherson room to let loose. And he does: his voice is bright and limber over thrumming bass on the title track, and he dials in a woozy, seductive air on the noir-ish “Bridgebuilder,” a co-write with Dan Auerbach that floats on a bed of clinking right-hand piano and muted standup bass that McPherson interrupts with waves of overdriven guitar before he and the band bring the song gently home.
McPherson’s guitar playing is bolder throughout Let the Good Times Roll, to excellent effect. A propulsive bassline helps supersize the riff on the upbeat “Head Over Heels,” which threads syncopated handclaps between fills. “You Must Have Met Little Caroline?” is a study in contrasts as the clanging guitar riff gives way to a snaky descending piano part in the middle section and then erupts into a massive, super-heated guitar break. For all the raucous bombast of songs like “It Shook Me Up,” though, McPherson also shows he knows the value of restraint. He holds back on “It’s All Over But the Shouting,” which emphasizes grunting baritone saxophone and glimmers of organ until McPherson lays into a jangling guitar part that repeats with hypnotic allure. Guitar also plays a secondary role on “Shy Boy,” punctuating a staccato organ vamp with quick, punchy fills at the end of the refrain.
What’s perhaps most compelling about Let the Good Times Roll is the deft balance McPherson and his band strike between power and agility. Rock ’n’ roll has a knack for brute force, but these songs are never less than nimble, always full of electricity and a steady barometer of unfailing good taste.