A name like John Paul Keith might suggest a mash-up between the Beatles and the Stones, courtesy of someone who perhaps chose to name himself after their principals. The fact is, Keith does opt for retro fare, although the sound suggested herein reaches back even further, as gleaned from his native Memphis in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Three albums on, Memphis Circa 3 AM provides his most heartfelt homage yet, and a most impressive salute as well.
Like Chris Isaak, with whom he holds much in common, Keith reinvents his influences without sounding cloying or condescending. By enlisting producer Roland James, one of Sam Phillips’ original hired guns at Sun Studios, Keith not only elevates the authenticity, but affirms his own credence as well. There’s a varied musical palette, from the rockabilly rave-ups of “You Really Oughta Be With Me” and the Sun-styled “True Hard Money,” to the sarcasm and cynicism that accompanies “New Years Eve,” and the mournful country sound of “There’s a Heartache Going Round.”
Consequently, Keith’s nod to his hometown is both essential and inspired. And that makes Memphis Circa 3AM a timeless tribute as well.
– Lee Zimmerman