The replay of John Moreland’s network television debut is … glorious and affirming and a sucker punch. He is announced by Stephen Colbert, lights dissolve, and the camera slowly focuses on the person midway across the unadorned stage, revealing him beneath muted blue lights.
Big Bad Luv (2017) is the record John Moreland made after, after everything in his life changed. For the better.
He sings in one of those accents from flyover country that’s impossible to locate and implausible to mimic. (Texas, by way of Northern Kentucky, but mostly Tulsa, as it happens.) He sings directly from his heart, with none of the restraint and filters and caution the rest of us would apply for public protection. He sings with resolute courage.
And writes. Writes with simple eloquence about love and faith and isolation; the human condition; what every song and poem and novel is about, at the core: Life.
High on Tulsa Heat, released in 2015 through Thirty Tigers, landed Moreland on Colbert’s stage. Song placements on Sons of Anarchy, an emerging artist nomination from the Americana Music Association.
Enough sales to compel Moreland to give up his DIY label operation, and sign with 4AD. “It grew to the point where I couldn’t really handle everything myself,” he says. “Even with a manager and a small team, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to play music and not worry about the other stuff.”
“In churches learning how to hate yourself/Ain’t grace a wretched old thing” he sings, the song called “Ain’t We Gold.” Big Bad Luv is unmistakably a rock ‘n’ roll record. If, that is, one understands the term to include Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Hiatt, and Lucero. Or The Band, maybe. Insistent songs, coming from a voice as elegant as unfinished barn wood, songs which insist upon their words being heard.