2017 CD REVIEW
BIG BAD LUV (4AD-REMOTE CONTROL)
FROM TEXAS TO TULSA - MORELAND AND PIT STOPS
“There's a neon sign that says big bad love/ and a noose hanging down from the heaven above/ it's no use, God bless these blues/ let's get wrecked, bruised and battered/ I need you, come on, burn right through/ honey, show me I'm not shattered.” - Sallislaw Blue - John Moreland.
Texan born latter day Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland comes from a punchy posse of nouveau outlaws blazing a new trail in the Wild West.
Now, after landing three songs Heaven, Gospel and Your Spell in famed TV show Sons Of Anarchy , he scored release for his seventh album here in the unlucky radio country.
The Tulsa troubadour shares his renegade spirit with literate modern peers diverse as chart topping Kentucky coal-miner's son Chris Stapleton and Alabama refugee Jamey Johnson.
Unlike Sam Outlaw and William Michael Morgan his music is available here on CD and not confined to the digital wasteland.
Moreland, 31, also graduated from his punk-hard core roots with Texan Kevin Fowler who broadened his music under tutelage of Oklahoma born latter day Texan Ray Wylie Hubbard.
But there are more parallels with the organic literary spirit of Texans Billy Joe Shaver and the late Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
Ironically, Moreland shares his Texas birthplace with country singers Miranda Lambert, Rodney Carrington and Neal McCoy and Oscar winning actor Matthew McConaughey.
And, like Ray Wylie and other singer-songwriters swimming outside the mainstream, Moreland scored exposure on nocturnal TV variety TV shows.
Moreland performed Break My Heart Sweetly from 2013 album In The Throes on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert whose predecessor David Letterman also gave exposure to neglected artists.
Colbert held up the cover of Moreland's 2015 album High On Tulsa Heat.
It helped propel Moreland from his self-produced mail order indie releases - some with his previous groups Black Gold Soul and Dust Bowl Souls - to the Fellowship Hall Sound studio in Little Rock , Arkansas , with extra recording in Memphis .
Moreland's guitar playing and vocals are accompanied by drummer Paddy Ryan, bassist Aaron Boehler and harmonica player John Calvin Abney sharing organ and Wurlitzer duties with Rick Steff.
“I always start off writing whatever comes naturally,” Moreland revealed of his new album.
“Once I've got seven or eight of those, then I'll take stock and look at what I've got, figure out what belongs on a record together, and what might not. Then I'll figure out what kind of songs I need.”
Moreland recorded the album in three sessions over ten months.
“It's not like we're sitting there over-thinking the performances, I'm definitely a fan of just hit record and play it,” Moreland added.
“But then there's long stretches where I'm not in the studio, when I'm listening to what I did, asking how do I turn this into a record?”
Steff sped up the process by making himself available.
“I went home and wrote five songs in four days and finished up,” Moreland says.
OK that's enough history - what about the music?
Well, harmonica fuelled entrée Sallisaw Blue sets the scene with its graphic bluesy homage to a tainted town on the Arkansas River where the lead character pleads for redemption from a bucolic belle.
It segues into Old Wounds where the two combatants fight judgemental jurists working for Satan's soldiers - they aim to find heaven after conquering the evil spirits.
Moreland continues his Biblical battle in Every Kind Of Wrong where they flee an Armageddon jury that puts their love on trial.
THE DEVIL LURKS EVERYHERE
“And I thought I was an actor/ I'd let my colours show/ but what if I'm just a bastard/ laying low inside your radio.” - Love is Not An Answer - John Moreland.
Maybe I'm reading too much into the Moreland miracle maze but he begins Amen, So Be It “so your heart is not a souvenir/ singing from behind a sad veneer.”
I could cheat and discover Moreland found romance in his own travels - maybe half way through writing these 11 songs.
But Moreland just can't shake off Satan in his intro to No Glory In Regret that begins “did you hear the devil laughing from the ambulance passing” as he recalls pouring whiskey in the wind, burning pictures of his best friends until the ashes covered him like rain.
But there's love at the end of the tunnel and final verse after revealing “God's been making deals while we're down here spinning our wheels.”
Maybe Father Bob Maguire can recruit Moreland on his planned Australian tour to join him in an Ecumenical exchange of sorts in South Melbourne .
GOLD BRICKS AND SERPENTS
“Don't let me turn to dust to turn a phrase/ could you help me wash these years off my face/ I used to have a prisoner's point of view/ now I only care for being seen by you.” - It Don't Suit Me Like Before - John Moreland.
But it's Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith who add vocal harmonies to It Don't Suit Me Like Before that debuts on Nu Country TV on Saturday June 10.
The video opens with a road sign reading Tulsa City Limits .
It traces Moreland's journey - what is left behind in the past and its destination - featuring images of his hometown, crew and various tour stops.
There's even a credit to local band Lizard Police - part of the Tulsa hard-core scene where Moreland started out.
Moreland's fitting finale here is a stripped down version of Latchkey Kid featuring Steff on piano and organ and bassist Boehler.
“So here I stand, right before you/ waiting for my turn to toe the line/ don't let me die in California/ while I'm dragging all these rivers in my mind/ cause I've found a love that shines into my core/ and I don't need to prove myself no more/ and when I look into the mirror, now I see/ a man I never knew that I could be.”