Music » This Little Underground

JD McPherson and Charley Crockett show that revivalism can still be fresh AF



Well, hell, apparently 2018 is going to be even more seismic for the city's music landscape than that Firestone complex bombshell I reported last week. Downtown will soon see yet another overhaul and reboot, this time at longtime music fixture Backbooth – which, to be blunt, has needed it for years. According to an official announcement over the weekend, the last show under the current name will be Dec. 30. After that and some renovations, the club will rise under new ownership and management as Soundbar. Stay tuned.


Of all the American roots neo-traditionalists, hotshot Okie JD McPherson is without a doubt one of this generation's most distinctive. He's retro, but he ain't cute. There's a big difference. Although he rocks the stuff your grandparents got down to, he does it with peerless flair and taste that's as good as it is literate, drawing the seminal marrow of early rock & roll and its mighty rhythm & blues headwaters. It's a perfectly calibrated balance between deep reverence and hot-blooded conquest.

Though not exactly prolific, McPherson's been doing strong, distinguished work since splashing onto the scene in 2010 with the instant knockout of his debut, Signs & Signifiers. But now freshly on the fitting New West Records with this year's album, Undivided Heart & Soul, he's currently in his brawniest, most expansive phase yet, one that shares some DNA with the Black Keys.

McPherson's Orlando debut was lit both onstage and off, with a crowd nearly fervent enough to match his own natural fire. Even though he could no doubt ignite it all on his own, he rolled deep with an airtight, high-functioning band, a quintet loaded up with stand-up bass, organ and sax to juice their traditional rock & roll setup with some jump-blues bona fides. Live, his players were absolutely pro, practically flawless, achieving every ounce of the golden, lived-in warmth and patina that he captures so exactingly on record. But amid all that wingspan, the undisputed engine is McPherson. And testament to the sheer soul and horsepower he's packing is how he's able to throw all that heat with so little sweat. Classic but never quaint, McPherson's vision is the kind of revivalism that looks to tap the original nerve and electricity of rock & roll and make it swing anew, not bathe in the golden afterglow of its memory.

Though he's always stayed closer to his roots than the Black Keys ever were to theirs, he may just be the most compelling heir apparent to their defining New American Roots crown. By getting less literal with his references and becoming increasingly expansive in his sound, JD McPherson is showing a horizon that's deep, wide and really just unfolding.

Supporting act Charley Crockett is a new Texas artist who's starting to perk radars. He bears more than a little likeness to McPherson as a roots romancer who's also retro-smart with considerable dash. Although Crockett's particular recipe is different – a New Orleans-spiced bouillabaisse of blues and country that's equally as comfortable in the juke joint as it is in the honky-tonk – his angle is remarkably similar.

Crockett's a relative newcomer but he's stepping out strong, coming live as a five-piece band with his Blue Drifters, who look the part with vintage Western wear and – most crucially – play the part with pure faith and rollicking stomp. Their stage show is made extra deluxe with a fifth member who handles keys, horns and squeezebox. Roll the clock back 50 or 60 years and probably the only thing that would've changed about this spectacle is that the dance floor would be popping with couples swinging. Crockett's band are a throwback but not a novelty. These guys do it with true belief and guts.

Beyond the getups and overt influences, however, Crockett packs some brilliant young soul that's timeless and could translate well even into modern pop with scary ease. Not that anyone should ever suggest he go all Maroon 5 or some shit like that, but he's got a shine that's beyond any particular style or trappings.

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