J.D. McPherson, "Let the Good Times Roll" (Rounder). A lightning bolt of a record, Oklahoma rock 'n' roller J.D. McPherson's second album delivers 11 shocking songs that split the difference among Buddy Holly, early Rolling Stones, the Black Keys and Bo Diddley. A supremely smart songwriter who cuts at a lover on the rockabilly sprint "Bossy" with the wicked opening line, "Did you win a black ribbon for breaking hearts," McPherson understands the importance of lyrical precision and can capture tough emotions with a few carefully crafted syllables.
McPherson is adept at constructing rockers and ballads. "Bridgebuilder" blends gentle percussion, a clinky Little Richard-suggestive piano melody and a cavernous electric guitar solo. "Precious" has the feel of an old western song, except it's driven by a humming tremolo guitar riff and relentless maracas. "Mother of Lies" suggests jump blues, with heavy backbeat claps and much organ-driven energy.
At just over two minutes, the record's closing song, "Everybody's Talking 'Bout the All-American," is as sturdy and undeniable as its opener. Propelled by a snare-snapped percussion and yet another meandering McPherson solo, when the track ends you'll want to restart "Let the Good Times Roll" and relive the experience again from start to finish.
Dengue Fever, "The Deepest Lake" (Tuk Tuk). Dengue Fever burst out of the Los Angeles underground in the mid-'00s with its transcendent tribute to the strange, psychedelic pop of 1960s and '70s Cambodia, and through the decade the six-piece group has refined and expanded its sound. Led by the Cambodian American singer Chhom Nimol, the group was formed by brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman and on its new record sounds as mesmerizing as ever.
Truth be told, its throwback-fusion sound ran the risk of being a conceit. How far could Dengue carry an idea dedicated to a long-gone moment half a world away? A dynamic, expertly recorded record, "The Deepest Lake" answers that question. Rich with percussion, organs, interwoven guitar lines, alto sax bursts, cowbell and a gorgeous tone that seems to echo in the eardrums, it's an urgent, groove-heavy affair. "Vacant Lock" shocks with Nimol's voice, some deep, Jamaican-dub bass lines and drifting synthetic and acoustic percussion. The album-closing "Golden Flute" features just that: flute coupled with Nimol vocal runs, a meandering guitar line and barely there accordions.
Father John Misty, "I Love You, Honeybear" (Sub Pop). The artist born Josh Tillman aims for grandiosity in his Father John Misty disguise, and his second album for Sub Pop repeatedly reaches such heights. A musical genie bottle with the spirits of Phil Spector, Lee Hazlewood and Brian Wilson corked within, Tillman and co-producer Jonathan Wilson seem to revel in letting these sounds seep out and intermingle.
Strings and guitars add texture as Tillman's voice delivers witty, strange lines about love and devotion, of adoration and adventure. During the wonderful "Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)," he sings of a woman: "Emma eats bread and butter like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine." During "True Affection," Tillman bemoans the digitally connected world of "strange devices" that supplant more intimate kinds.
Best, though, is "Honeybear'"s breadth, and the way Tillman so confidently stretches to reach peaks, then pokes them with lyrical pins. "Everything is doomed, and nothing will be spared," he sings on the title track before concluding, "But I love you, Honeybear."