Album Review: John Moreland, ‘High on Tulsa Heat’
Some artists are blessed with the ability to write lyrics that spear you through the heart. Others are blessed with the ability to deliver them, while others still are blessed with the ability to arrange them. Kentucky-via-Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland is blessed with all three, as his third album, High on Tulsa Heat, proves and proves again over the course of 10 songs straight.
A veteran of punk and hardcore, Moreland started writings songs at the tender age of 10. Where so often the results ring hollow when punkers and rockers reach for their cowboy hats, Moreland sounds like a lifer. And though he hasn't yet turned 30, his songs convey the experience and seasoning of an artist twice his age.
Moreland played most of the instruments too -- a choice that pays off in the album's slow-loping pace (even on its relatively uptempo, honky-tonk inspired numbers). Interestingly, though he could have chosen to split the album up into two halves -- one consisting of solo-acoustic Americana ballads, the other of electric, full-band rock -- he opted instead to alternate between the two modes. It's a pattern the listener gets accustomed to, but it also refreshes the palette with each song transition, in spite of the initial sense of disjointedness.
It's a cliche to suggest that country music should be imbued with heartbreak, but Moreland's husky voice conveys heartache and hope -- life -- with such conviction and depth that he establishes his absolute sincerity from note one.
When, on "Heart's Too Heavy," the music trails off for a second and Moreland sings, "Sometimes love is a losing fight," it's not like he's telling us anything we don't already know -- and yet the line has the weight of a revelation. "And I cried all night even though I'm grown," he sings on the same song. Without being overly dramatic, you can hear the crying in Moreland's voice.
Spend enough time with this record, live with it a little, and rest assured that you'll be crying too.