The beauty of JD McPherson‘s new album is that calling it a “classic” or “fantastic new album” is definitely apt and accurate, but neither phrase affords the album the distinction it deserves. From note one, Undivided Heart & Soul employs a directory of time-honored songwriting and performance staples which have historically spun yards of platinum for those who have used them previously.
At any given moment, listeners will recognize streaks or pop, soul, rock n’ roll, rockabilly, surf, psychedelic rock and more running through the songs found here, as well as vintage production cliches. What sounds like vintage coil reverb touches every tone, but there is also some rotund bass which sounds like it could have been lifted right out of a Desert Session – and that’s only the beginning of the densely layered overdubs used to create these songs. And it’s all presented with the utmost care and respect while at the same time boldly using those forms to etch an all-new sound perfectly unique to this singer.
Even on first listen, it’s easy to want to call the sound, style and songs on Undivided Heart & Soul timeless – but even that doesn’t feel like it gives the music the credit it deserves. It is a good point from which we can leap to start singing the album’s praises, however.
From the moment “Desperate Love” crashes in to open the A-side of Undivided Heart & Soul, listeners may find themselves without the appropriate words, their jaws dangling in shock. Right off, it feels as though we have fallen into some kind of time warp. McPherson’s voice rings through true and warmly while Ray Jacildo’s keyboards and Doug Corcoran’s performance entwine to create a perfectly hypnotic rock n’ soul hybrid which sounds as though it might have been first imagined in San Francisco in the Sixties. And it is pushed sweetly but inevitably into listeners’ collective face by Jimmy Sutton’s upright bass and Jason Smay’s really, really simple drum pattern.
The results are magic – it’s impossible to not want to venture with the song to wherever it might reside in time, but it never quite betrays where that might be. It is articulate and undeniable and incredibly familiar in a multitude of ways, but does not fit easily into any particular pigeonhole – and it is absolutely awesome for all of those reasons.
And the A-side continues
With their curiosity piqued, listeners will have no trouble wanting to delve deeper into Undivided Heart & Soul, and they’ll find themselves instantly rewarded as McPherson playfully rolls out what could easily be a lost Stax/Motown gem in the form of “Crying’s Just A Thing That You Do” which contrasts a flawless and adorable soul rhythm and vocal with an awe-inspiring and bottomless bass figure.
Then getting “screechy”and “hip-y” (as in, hip-shakin’) for “Lucky Penny” before swinging into the romantic balladry of “Hunting For Sugar” and picking up some surf-y vibes for “On the Lips.” As they make their way through that aforementioned deluge, listeners will be absolutely amazed, enamoured and overcome by not just how easily McPherson and his band easily picks up idea after idea in the name of serving each song, rethinking their position and then serving that song too. Each time, the band rolls in and absorbs ideas which are requisite to serve the new song, but also utilize the other sounds they have in their arsenal to fill them out. It’s incredible.
And when the time comes to flip the record over in order to keep the magic going, the B-side manages to do just that. Listeners who were already hooked by Undivided Heart & Soul‘s A-side will be able to feel their bodily rhythms rush to rewrite themselves and harmonize with the fine, brushed drums and the smooth, slick standup bass which powers “Bloodhound Rock.”
For his part too, McPherson mugs the visage of a stoned soul pimp as he testifies lines like, “Roundabout ten, we’ll be playing it again/ Pickin’ at the floor like an old bitty hen” and sells it so well to listeners that they’ll be aching for more when the song ends. After that, the one-two punch combination of “Style” (which rides a raunchy rhythm right into listeners’ hearts) and “Under The Spell of City Lights” (which sounds like the greatest Soul song never covered by Shadowy Men From A Shadowy Planet) lays them out and leaves them smiling while seeing stars.
In the cases of both those songs, the gorgeous and seductive bass tone effortlessly hooks and guides listeners to a euphoric state where all they’ll really be concerned with is the rhythm of the song and its relation to the level of pleasure they feel as it washes over them. They’ll follow it anywhere because it is just so perfect and after they’re lead to the sublimely fluffy Soul workshop, “Let’s Get Out Of Here While We’re Young,” which closes both the side and the album, they’ll find they’ve been left both satisfied and spent by the whole experience.
An experience from front to back
After having run front-to-back with Undivided Heart & Soul, those who have taken the whole trip may find they’re left glowing from the experience – even if, when pressed, they won’t be able to tell you what exactly it was. As stated, the beauty of this album is that it implies classicism because it attacks its muse from so many sides and angles that there’s no question it feels complete but, in keeping with a proud post-modernist’s artistic sensibility, JD McPherson leaves it open wide enough that it still feels like all things are possible in the end. That, in a word, is genius; and there’s no way to tire of it, no matter how often one listens.