John Moreland has a gift for creating something beautiful out of the downtrodden and misunderstood. One of today’s top songwriters, Moreland has been gaining career speed since the release of his 2013 debut, In The Throes. In 2015 he followed that up with High on Tulsa Heat to critical acclaim (read our review of that here.) Both albums showcase Moreland’s songwriting skills and his ability to produce tender, stripped-down songs. He has a knack for stepping inside your heart and showing you the beauty within sadness, but it’s the honesty from Moreland’s music that really hits hard.
His newest record, Big Bad Luv, hits with fierce honesty that rips out your heart and stitches it back up with beauty. Unlike his previous efforts, this album comes at us with a full band approach. This is exactly what his fans have been waiting for. Moreland’s songwriting does not suffer one bit, and the overall album has a brighter, more produced quality. With one spin, all your pains start to fade away.
“Sallisaw Blue” kicks off the album with its upbeat, traveling musician anthem. It is a pleasant surprise that offers insight into the daily struggles of a hardworking musician. Moreland sings with his weathered voice, “I need you, Come on burn right through, Honey show me I’m not shattered… a neon sign that says Big Bad Luv.”
Not all songs have that bluesy, shuffling rhythm. “Old Wounds” brings us back to the familiar Moreland we have come to know. It’s a melancholy song reinforcing the overall theme of “seeing the seasons change.” The piano in “Love Is Not an Answer” grabbed me instantly. The beat is contagious, and Moreland’s voice soothes the soul. Too many of us depend on love to make us happy. Moreland realizes that love is not an answer for happiness but it is something too important to give up on.
Similarly, “Lies I Chose to Believe” has a moving drum beat with a piano rocking through. It flawlessly fits the vocals and guitar style of this young troubadour. A battered heart and hard-earned wisdom shines through gloriously on “Slow Down Easy.” These catchy, well-rounded songs are exactly what Moreland has been needing in his previous efforts. As Moreland says, “Slow down easy, I’ve been hauling a heavy load.”
The acoustic “No Glory in Regret” most closely resembles both his previous albums and his onstage performance. It is a heavy, poetic track that veers away from the full sound heard on the rest of the record. It is also a perfect example of how Moreland reminisces about wasted efforts put into relationships and friendships. Nothing is built to last, and time keeps moving on: “Bless our busted hearts, Just sinking into the dark, Mourning these wasted old sparks.”
“Ain’t We Gold” kicks it back up with a toe-tapping rock tempo while “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” and “Latchkey Kid” are infectious and full of wisdom. They are layered with a full band that enhances every note and lyric.
No matter what Moreland writes and sings about, we can relate to the struggles of day-to-day life depicted in his music. He reminds us to fight through to the end. No matter the darkness there can always be a positive outlook. This is an album that you can sit and soak in the power from every word. Moreland admits that he writes about his demons and sings those teary-eyed songs to get things off his chest. This album is another example of that, only with a few more upbeat songs and a few less heartbreakers.
This Tweet from Miranda Lambert perfectly sums up Moreland’s songwriting genius:
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