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Ear Bliss goes old school with new records; spotlight on the south

April 29, 2012

A couple of releases in the old school style, from both the rock &roll and country perspectives, are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Let’s take a look.

JD McPherson
Signs & Signifiers
Rounder Records

Slip the new album Signs & Signifiers from J.D. McPherson into the disc player, hit the Play button and close your eyes and you’ll instantly be transported back to the 1950s. From the punchy sound chocked with echo and heavy beat, leadoff track “North Side Gal” sounds like it could’ve been recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in the ‘50s heyday of that label. While the vintage of the song is 2011, the whole of Signs & Signifiers emits an authenticity in yesteryear sonic sound you just don’t hear anymore. Frankly speaking, McPherson’s debut for Rounder Records is like a time warp, and a good one at that. Calling Broken Arrow, Oklahoma home, McPherson traveled to the Hi-Style Studios in Chicago where tube equipment and ribbon mics dominate to make Signs & Signifiers. Old school rock and roll, blues, and rockabilly are all over the grooves of this stellar outing. The dozen tracks shimmy and shake like a bobble head doll, no doubt one in ‘50s garb. Blame it on a combination of the singing swagger of McPherson along with an incredibly talented cast of musicians who buy right into his groove machine. Keep a watch out for this guy.

Jason Eady
AM Country Heaven
Underground Sound Records

The new longplayer called AM Country Heaven from the Texas singer and songwriter Jason Eady sounds like a record made in Nashville, sometime in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. It was a time when players like Randy Travis, Mark Chesnutt and other traditionalists were hearkening back to the roots of the sound in their music, a hard country blend buoyed by fiddle and pedal steel guitar that recalled even earlier times. Country music, at least the Nashville variety, took a turn in the latter part of the 1990s to more of a pop leaning sound. Whereas there have been the occasional nods to what once was, they are more the anomaly than the norm. It makes Mr. Eady’s AM Country Heaven such a welcome respite from the current norm. The title refers to the current state of country radio where the FM band is all about polish and big sound and the AM band is where one goes to have a fightin’ chance of finding any of the tried and true stuff. Eady puts it rather succinctly in the title track singing “I remember the days when the singers just sang and left it all in the stories they’d tell / But these days we’re in AM country heaven and FM country hell.” Simpler times and songs going for the gut of emotions is Eady’s blueprint. The kicker of it all is it is an album not made in Nashville, but in Austin, Texas. And instead of relying on Nashville studio aces to drive home the hard country sound, Eady enlisted some of Austin’s best (the band Heybale) to provide the AM Country Heaven undercurrent. There’s even a star turn with country singer Patty Loveless joining in on vocals on “Man On the Mountain.” The Nashville connection comes thanks to producer Kevin Welch, he an alumni of the early 1990s New Traditionalist Movement arising out of Music City whose more Americana roots rock did a short dance with the majors. When all went South, Welch retreated to the more friendly environs of Austin to ply his trade as a singer/songwriter. Given Welch’s own output, his helming such a hard country leaning album as AM Country Heaven is a bit surprising. The results, that being a sturdy collection of songs in the traditional setting, is a welcome surprise. Recommended.

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.)


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