Since his breakout 2013 album, In the Throes, John Moreland has earned a reputation as Americana’s resident rip-your-heart-out folkie. His gut-wrenching and gorgeous songs of heartbreak, loss and loneliness captivated audiences who reveled in what can best be described as “music to cry to.” Moreland disciples eagerly lent their well-worn copies of 2015’s High on Tulsa Heat to friends along with the warning “It’s beautiful… but so sad.”
Of course, to reduce the Oklahoma native’s music to simply “sad songs” is to miss the point. Moreland’s songs aren’t simply sad, they’re honest explorations of the human condition. That includes sadness and every other emotion in the book. That honesty won Moreland fans in fellow troubadours Jason Isbell and Miranda Lambert, who once drove from Nashville to Little Rock, Ark. just to see Moreland perform.
Moreland’s latest effort Big Bad Luv (out May 5 on 4AD records) finds him as honest, reflective, tender and raw as ever… with a few less tears and more songs to dance to.
Happy Sad Songs
Big Bad Luv kicks off with the Steve Earle-esque “Sallisaw Blue,” a shuffling road trip anthem.
“God bless these blues, let’s get wrecked and bruised and battered,” Moreland sings in his weathered drawl.
On “Old Wounds,” Moreland finds the beauty in the utterly terrifying risk of searching for love.
At the same time Moreland warns “love’s a violent word,” he implores you to “find the heaven following the hurt.” You’re bound to get hurt in the seemingly endless search for love. But often there’s beauty after, and even within, the pain. It’s what makes us human, after all. “We’ll open up old wounds in celebration,” Moreland sings. “If we don’t bleed it don’t feel like a song.”
The recently married Moreland explores newfound love on album standout “Love is Not an Answer,” which lives within the Heartland roots rock of early Bruce Springsteen and Wildflowers-era Tom Petty.
“Love is not an answer,” Moreland sings over an infectious melody. “I don’t need an answer, I need you.” And this time it’s enough to convert even the most jaded hearts.
Moreland kicks the tempo up again with the bluesy garage rock groove of “Ain’t We Gold,” showcasing his killer backing band, including multi-instrumentalist John Calvin Abney and Lucero’s Rick Steff on keys.
On “Lies I Chose to Believe,” Moreland examines his past views of love and relationships. “Love ain’t a sickness,” he sings. “Though I once thought it was”
Yet another album standout, “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” finds Moreland exploring the hopefulness of a heart laid bare.
“I used to have a prisoner’s point of view, now I only care about being seen by you.”
On Big Bad Luv, John Moreland sings with the clarity of someone who’s been through hell and back again. At once breathtaking, hopeful, and yes, happy, the result is already one of the best records of 2017.
You can catch Moreland on tour across the U.S. this summer.