|photo cowtown chad|
ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
May 13, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
How to put it. Let's see. It's just that knowledge of words and how to use them. How to see words as more than just a means to an end, or just another piece of the song. It's this;
Fat man sitting on a little stool / Takes the money from my hand while his eyes take a walk all over you / Hands me the ticket, smiles and whispers good luck / Cuddle up angel, cuddle up my little dove / We'll ride down, baby, into this tunnel of love ...No, you're right. John Moreland didn't write that. But Moreland knows some good words, and he knows how to stack them so that they make a great racket when they fall.
He conjures that magic on his new record, Big Bad Luv, though something has changed since 2015's High on Tulsa Heat. John Moreland is in love. Or luv. And like good love does, it's made him see himself differently. I'm still staring at the sky like at the start / With all these heavy anchors on my heart / But they don't suit me like before. "It Don't Suit Me" is direct, melodic, criminally catchy, maybe the year's best single. Heck, there's even a jangly tambourine. Like much of Moreland's new stuff, it's buoyed by the fullest, most deliberate arrangement of his career.
If we didn't know better, we'd be concerned. Especially since 2013's breakout In the Throes, Moreland has come across as a sympathetic figure, a downcast fellow who can communicate our brokenness more eloquently than any artist of his generation. We wanted the best for him, even as those heartbreaking lyrics indulged our melancholy. So what are we to make of this: I've found a love that shines into my core / And I don't need to prove myself no more ... ?
There's a lot of this taking personal stock on Big Bad Luv, glances over the shoulder at what's come before. There are no apologies, and Moreland's hardly admitting any fault. But things have changed. The record applies traditionally religious language and imagery to address this personal crucible and challenge, walking out of the darkness or at least having someone with whom to face it. In churches learning how to hate yourself / Ain't grace a wretched old thing ... With frequent piano, steel and even the occasional handclaps, there's almost a gospel spirit to the songs.
We felt for Moreland, that sad bastard. In a recent interview, he acknowledged that some of this music was written to counter that reputation, to shake it loose or at least to provide an alternative. It's a thread that shines throughout Luv:
Come on young savior, don't let your fever go to waste
I never meant to be / Your woe-is-me emergency
Don't let me be that devil that I sang
But what if I'm just a bastard / Laying low inside your radio
If we don't bleed / It don't feel like a song
After writing reviews of those two previous albums, I've learned I'm unable to talk about my appreciation of Moreland without quoting him ... And once again, no appreciation of this new work would be complete without celebrating that lyrical genius. But whereas much of his earlier work conveyed such an interior, self-critical message, you might find a more open, otherly-directed spirit to some of these tunes. It's still not an entirely upbeat, feelgood collection, and Moreland's still too young to call an end to his search.
Complimenting these more full arrangements, there's also a newfound simplicity and directness to songs like "Amen So Be It". There's the use of repetition here and there, and a recognition that a song with fewer words can prove just as meaningful and abiding. Once again, Moreland has chosen to self-produce, though Tchad Blake contributed to the mixing process. Folks like Shovels & Rope and Dawes contribute backing vocals, while Lucero's Rick Steff proves his piano lines can speak volumes. And here's hoping that frequent sideman John Calvin Abney earns some new attention for his valuable and wide ranging work. Not everything on Big Bad Luv is packed to the edges. But the range of sound and emotion simply serve to make more acoustic, reflective moments like "Latchkey Kid" or "No Glory In Regret" shine brighter and strike deeper.
Could you help me wash these years off of my face.
No doubt John Moreland is looking to capitalize on the attention he earned with Tulsa Heat, and the recent success of peers like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell might bring a larger audience to his doorstep. And, hey it certainly doesn't hurt that Miranda Lambert can't stop talking about the guy. But amidst the opportunity, and despite the changes and the new choices, he remains a genuine, strikingly eloquent artist. He is drawn by a truly personal muse, and sings with a depth of feeling like few others. So when "Sallisaw Blue" or "Lies I Chose To Believe" show up on late night tv, or when "It Don't Suit Me" bounces from your stereo speaker, there's no need to worry. John Moreland's in love. Just take your place in the reception line. Bless our busted hearts.
Also here, Ryan Adams makes public nearly 20 tunes that didn't quite make the cut for his Prisoner album (but they're good enough for us). Lydia Loveless reveals that she is a Belieber. And please welcome Matthew Ryan to our fledgling list of year-end favorites! All this, plus this week's weekly ROUTES-cast awaits below. Are you sure you still have time for dinner ... ?
- Felice Brothers, "Love Me Tenderly" Felice Brothers (Team Love, 08)
- Joan Shelley, "If the Storms Never Came" Joan Shelley (No Quarter, 17)
- Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "I'm Always on a Mountain When I Fall" Best Troubador (Drag City, 17) D
- House and Land, "Wandering Boy" House and Land (Thrill Jockey, 17) D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "I Want You (live)" 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde (OCMS, 17)
- North Mississippi Allstars, "61 Highway" Prayer for Peace (Songs of the South, 17)
- Buddy Miller, "Woke Up This Morning" I'll Take You There: An All-Star Celebration (Blackbird, 17)
- John Calvin Abney, "Dallas City Lights" Better Luck (Bullet in the Chamber, 14)
^ John Moreland, "Amen So Be It" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- Joseph Huber, "Playground/Battlefield" Suffering Stage (Huber, 17)
- Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Everything I Have is Broken" Crooked River Burning (Rockwood Music, 14)
- Chris Stapleton, "Either Way" Songs From A Room: Vol. 1 (Mercury, 17)
- My Morning Jacket, "Easy Morning Rebel" It Still Moves (ATO, 03)
- Vandoliers, "Endless Summer" the Native (State Fair, 17)
- Jade Jackson, "Aden" Gilded (Anti, 17)
- Ryan Adams, "Please Help Me" Prisoner: the B-Sides (PaxAm, 17) D
- Dan Auerbach, "King of a One Horse Town" Waiting on a Song (Easy Eye, 17)
- Secret Sisters, "He's Fine" You Don't Own Me Anymore (New West, 17)
- Pokey LaFarge, "Must Be a Reason" Manic Revelations (Rounder, 17)
- Bap Kennedy, "Nothing Can Stand In the Way of Love" Restless Heart (Last Chance, 17)
- Jake LaBotz, "Hobo On a Passenger Train" Sunnyside (Hi-Style, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Sorry" Desire/Sorry (Bloodshot, 17) D
- Steelism, "Eno Nothing" Ism (Intoxicating Sounds, 17) D
- Eilen Jewell, "Dusty Boxcar Wall" Letters From Sinners & Strangers (Signature Sounds, 07)
- Matthew Ryan, "Close Your Eyes" Hustle Up Starlings (Ryan, 17) D
- Margo Price, "Downpour" Cover Stories: 10 Years of the Story (Looking Out, 17) D
- Ryan Bingham, "Rainy Day Woman (live)" Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings (Bluebird, 17)
- Arliss Nancy, "Vonnegut" Wild American Runners (Gunner, 13)
- Mastersons, "Perfect" Transient Lullaby (Red House, 17) D
- Deslondes, "Hurricane Shakedown" Hurry Home (New West, 17)