Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Richard Brody
On a mid-July Wednesday night in Troy, the music was as hot as the wings and as cool as the over dozen beers offered on the menu. J.D. McPherson – only a few days after playing a memorable set at Green River Festival – brought his band of roots-rocking brothers to the Ale House to entertain a sell-out crowd for over two hours.
Those who could not manage to procure a ticket had to content themselves with listening from the sidewalk on River Street. Inside, the cramped conditions made getting a cold beverage a bit difficult, but that was no matter. McPherson, a native of southeastern Oklahoma, was greeted like a hometown hero by fans who may have caught his appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” heard him on WEXT-FM or picked up a copy of his 2012 debut album Signs & Signifiers on Rounder Records.
The word of mouth on McPherson has been growing exponentially. Before the show began at 8:30pm, several at the bar could be overheard exclaiming that they had come to the show because of recommendations by friends who had attended Bonnaroo in April.
The paying crowd got their money’s worth – more than 20 songs that encompassed rockabilly, blues in all shades and even ska. The opening “Dimes for Nickles” warmed the room up, and then a raucous cover of Ike Turner’s “You’ve Got to Lose” heated the temperature to fever pitch, with McPherson declaiming the chorus like a preacher, while Jason Smay drummed with power and precision. The Chess catalog got two big shout-outs – Bo Diddley’s “Mona” and Chuck Berry’s “Beautiful Delilah” – giving ample room to the talents of pianist-organist Ray Jacildo and tenor saxophonist Doug Corcoran.
McPherson’s “Fire Bug” got a massive response from the crowd, who were clapping and singing along from the start. Following Diddley’s “You Don’t Love Me” and Don & Dewey’s “Farmer John,” McPherson played his guitar like a man on a roots revival mission, his voice soaring and swooping on songs like “Old Dance Floor” and “A Gentle Awakening.” Upright bassist Jimmy Sutton took the vocal lead on Charlie Feathers’ “Stutterin’ Cindy,” and somehow a few folks in the audience found enough space to sip their drinks and shake their hips to the manic rockabilly rhythms. “Northside Gal,” which some had been requesting at the start of the evening, showed just why McPherson is often compared to Phil Alvin, legendary vocalist of the Blasters. “Wolf Teeth” lived up to its sharp title with a primeval groove (Doug Corcoran on second guitar) and McPherson dialing it up on his tenacious solos.
To the astonishment of many, the band took a dip in Jamaican waters for their first encore with the Ska Kings’ gem “Keep It Burnin’.” “Look at Her, Look at Her,” “Scandalous” and the classic Ritchie Valens’ rave-up “Ooh My Head!” closed out a night of music to remember, brag about and hope will happen again soon.