No so long ago, it was a big deal to make a record. It was no easy task, and the labels were in total control. Hearing Bruce Springsteen talk about what it felt like getting your first record pressed back in the 70s made it sound like the chance of a lifetime. Advances in recording technology and physical distribution eventually made it a simple chore for any new band or artist. Add to this the plethora of live recordings all over the internet, like my friend West Coast Karl says, “It’s raining music.”
All this leads up to the fact that it’s hard to keep up with new music and my confession that I need to do a better job. That it took me this long to finally hear Oklahoma’s John Moreland is sad. Thankfully Jason Isbell started throwing some praise his way.
After hearing a few of Moreland’s songs, I jumped at the chance to cross the Cumberland for his recent show at The Basement East in East Nashville (or “The Beast” as we like to say). Talking to fans pre-show caused more self-guilt when I learned that he has already played here in Music City at Third & Lindsley, the Station Inn and Music City Roots. Where in the world was I?
The Beast was packed, and my scan of the crowd and their general disinterest in the opening act had me concerned. Was I in a room of hipsters simply out making the scene, or were they there to actually see and listen to this new exciting singer-songwriter? Well, from his opening “I’m John Moreland, and I’m gonna play you some songs” to his final note, you could hear a pin drop. The between-songs jubilant crowd had done their homework. They knew all songs and while he played, respectfully locked their lips and tuned their ears into Moreland’s deep-sounding voice and acoustic guitar.
Wow! For 70 minutes, Moreland had me focused on each and every word. The songs came quickly, and he stuck to business, saying little other than the usual courtesies and some banter about how guitar tuning sucks. His set list included songs from his last two releases, 2013’s In the Throes and 2015’s High on Tulsa Heat, plus one new song from a record in the works.
Moreland is a big man, and he remained seated on a stool which he left only for a brief respite before a final encore song. It was hard to not feel compassion for the personal struggle his size must cause him.
Recognizing all this, Moreland’s songs are not always all happy. But they are thought-provoking, insightful and just damn good songs. They feature both painful self-revelations (“You Don’t Care Enough for Me to Cry”) and strong imagery (hanging in the Tulsa Country stars or photos of American flags in black and white). Vocally, his voice at times reminds me of Springsteen. (Listen to Moreland’s take on Bruce’s “Thunder Road.”)
Moreland is at a point right now where things will start to skyrocket for him. While I am currently cherishing his own recordings, I predict that there is a goldmine out there waiting for him when one of today’s country stars grabs something like “Break My Heart Sweetly” or “Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore.”
John is nominated for “Emerging Artist of the Year” in the 2016 Americana Music Awards to be held on September 21 at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
- Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars
- You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry
- Heart’s Too Heavy
- God’s Medicine
- Losing Sleep Tonight
- American Flags in Black & White
- Sad Baptist Rain
- [new song]
- Your Spell
- Oh Julia
- I Need to Tell You Who I Am
- Break My Heart Sweetly
- Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore
- 3:59 am
John Moreland—Vocals and Acoustic Guitar