John Moreland – Big Bad Luv
4AD – 5 May 2017
Last year saw the UK release of two of Tulsa-based John Moreland’s earlier albums, 2013’s In The Throes and 2015’s High On Tulsa Heat, the favourable response to which now sees him signed to prestigious British indie label 4AD, whose roster includes The National, Camera Obscura, Deerhunter, Grimes and Aldous Harding.
His debut for the label, Big Bad Luv clearly sets its sights on reaching out to a wider international audience, but without sacrificing the qualities that have built his reputation. The main differences here are that it is, at times, a rockier, noisier affair and, while the songs still address bruised and battered relationships, there’s a more positive, redemptive note. Likewise, the Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen touchstones remain firmly in evidence, although Moreland has long since proven that he should be spoken of alongside them rather than compared to them.
Its lyrics containing the title line of the album, Sallisaw Blues ignites the album in swamp-blues rocking style, throaty vocal meshing with slide guitar, Wurlitzer, wailing harmonica and a driving rhythm section as he sings “let’s get wrecked and bruised and battered”, while there’s an even swampier Creedence meets Dylan funk to Ain’t That Gold.
The sense of struggle and loss permeates, on Amen, So Be It, on which he talks about “the friends you lost in the wars you fight”, while he pointedly notes that “We don’t know how to call a truce and when we can’t lose the fight, we just lose touch” on It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before), a number which leans more to country colours for a chugging rhythm that conjures Springsteen channeling Guthrie.
The most striking Springsteen echo, however, can be found on the dusty wearied resignation of the drums scuffling piano ballad Lies I Chose to Believe (“I’ve gone and lost my faith in photographs, cursed those martyrs that mark my past and I long for a day when we’ll look back and laugh about all this”). He’s in a similar reflective mood on the search for salvation that is Old Wounds (“let them calculate the crimes in all our broken rhymes, but let us find the heaven following the hurt”) and the drawled, simple fingerpicked No Glory in Regret with its repeated observation of how “the truth comes at the price of your youth.” Even so, rather than dwelling on things that you can’t change, much here is about moving on or finding unlooked for hope as, again on the same song with its rumination on fame and happiness with “the glitter spilling out of your veins”, he sings “Bless our busted hearts…. I was standing on a dead end drive with my pride, thumbing for a ride and somehow I ended up next to you.”
As well as roughing up the rock n roll a bit, working with a band and fuller instrumentation has also given him the chance to introduce a soulful rootsy gospel groove with the piano and organ on Slow Down Easy and the near six-minute Love Is Not An Answer, the former evoking thoughts of The Band.
It would have been good if some of the social and political commentaries of the previous albums had found it way on to this too, but their absence no way lessens its quality or emotional impact. And that’s there in potent force as the album ends on the quiet assurance of the excellent Latchkey Kid, Earle and Springsteen coalescing both musically and thematically as, with spare piano notes supporting the strummed acoustic guitar, he sings about coming through the self-recriminations and life’s testings to find salvation and self-acceptance, closing on the poignant lines
I’ve found a love that shines into my core
And I don’t feel the 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.
Amen, so be it.
Out Now on 4AD
Upcoming John Moreland Tour Dates
06 – Oran Mor – Glasgow, UK
09 – Union Chapel – London, UK
11 – Les Etoiles – Paris, FRA
13 – Kampnagel – Hamburg, GER
14 – Passionkirche – Berlin, GER
16 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, NLD
01 – Off Broadway, St. Louis MO, US
03 – Beachland Tavern, Cleveland OH, US
04 – Rock & Roll Hotel, Washington DC, US
07 – Bowery Ballroom, New York NY, US
08 – Sinclair, Boston MA, US
09 – Le Ritz, Montreal QC, Canada
10 – Velvet Underground, Toronto ON, Canada
13 – The Ark, Ann Arbor MI, US
14 – Thalia Hall, Chicago IL, US
16 – Turf Club, Minneapolis MN, US
17 – Barnstormers at Codfish Hollow, Maquoketa IA, US
11 – George’s Majestic, Fayetteville AR, US
12 – 1884 Lounge at Minglewood, Memphis TN, US
14-16 – Forecastle Festival, Louisville KY, US
15-16 – Sloss Festival, Birmingham AL, US
18 – Grey Eagle, Asheville NC, US
19 – Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC, US
22 – Proud Larry’s, Oxford MS, US
AUGUST (til 3rd Sept)
31 – End of the Road Festival – North Dorset District, UK