by Roy Kasten
Blueberry Hill's Duck Room
April 26, 2012
JD McPherson's signature song, "North Side Gal," is a hit waiting for a chart, a single looking for a jukebox, an irresistible dance number on its way to a rockabilly rhythm & blues sock hop that doesn't exist anywhere, save all the joints where he plays it, even on medium-to-slow nights like Thursday at the Duck Room. The song is insanely catchy, pumping and rumbling, swinging and a little wild, like Elvis in 1955, but sung with the sweet and rasping voice of Chicago bluesmen like Magic Sam or Little Walter.Opening up the night was Zach Broocke, a young Nashvillian, backed by St. Louis songwriter and rocker John Henry and Henry's current rhythm section. Broocke has an affable, heartland-rock disposition, though his songs need some work, perhaps a little less Edwin McCain and a little more John Prine. But even when giving the band a break and sitting down to pick a few songs on acoustic guitar, he kept the small audience interested.
Leading a five-piece band, featuring drums, piano, saxophone, big bass fiddle and a guitar - a quintet with one guitar, there's a novel concept - McPherson makes no pretense to breaking new ground but he isn't exactly recycling the past. He's too good a singer and songwriter to pander to nostalgia, even with the rockabillies twirling around him.
It took about half a set -- culled principally from his Rounder debut Signs and Signifiers, plus some excellent covers, including Chuck Berry's "Carol" and Don and Dewey's "Farmer John" - but finally the dance floor filled and the band, now soaked in sweat and feeling it, really feeling it, made good on the promise of McPherson's music. You can't relive the past but you can stake a claim to it, find your own voice and rhythm and songs in it, and suddenly it's not the past anymore. It's rock & roll and rhythm & blues - fully present.
Reviewer's note: The Black Keys are in town a day early and apparently Dan Auerbach is a fan of McPherson. He showed up midway through the set, bopped along, though no one asked him to dance.