High on Tulsa Heat
Old Omens/Thirty Tigers
Raw, Beautiful and Emotional Songs of Love and Hurt
Music touches people in many different ways and quite often it’s the circumstances of when you first hear a song or album that dictate your memories.
I only discovered John Moreland a week ago; when an e-buddy in Canada posted a couple of random YouTube videos on the Twitter. Out of curiosity I looked at a couple and one blew me away from the first couple of notes. That was John Moreland. I subsequently Googled him and within 24 hours his record company had sent me a download of this latest album.
So far; so ordinary.
Then last Friday I had a meeting with my Consultant who finally diagnosed me with early Prostate Cancer and he could book me in for an operation on Monday morning.
I have many thousands of hours of music on my computer and some classics on the iPhone; but for some reason I was drawn to John Moreland’s weary voice and incredibly personal songs as I lay on my hospital bed prior to the operation. The life changing procedure was a success, but as the evening wore on the enormity of my situation finally hit me like a thunderbolt as I woke from a slumber at 1am listened over and over again to this album until 6.15 when I finally some peace.
That’s my story; and here’s the actual review.
When you see him you would never expect a man so huge and rugged to have such a soft and sensitive voice as what glides out of the speakers on the opening track Hang Me In The Tulsa Stars. That magnificent voice and exquisitely picked acoustic guitar will instantly win the hearts of anyone who hears it for the first time. The song itself; and most that follow, is poetically beautiful conjuring up a man hurt so much by life and love he can only find the words to express himself in a song.
Born in Kentucky and living in Tulsa since the age of 10 Moreland embodies the spirit of Americana in every which way; including all kinds of minutiae into his panoramic lyrics; none more so than the nostalgia-fest of American Flags in Black and White. This is the opposite of the jingoist songs that currently come out of Music Row; but Moreland’s simplicity makes for a compelling four minutes as he speaks for (and about?) the silent majority.
Most tracks are Moreland and guitar but occasionally he employs a band and on Sad Baptist Rain he gives all those Alt. Country bands a run for their money as he re-lives the time as a teenager her found himself rebelling against his Baptist upbringing by drinking beer and going to Punk Rock gigs. I could easily live with another album in the same vein.
We go back to basics on White Flag; where Moreland couldn’t sound any more fragile; even close to tears as he fights to save his relationship; but we never get to hear the outcome as he leaves that to our imagination.
The two songs that really got me through that Monday night were Cherokee and Hearts Too Heavy. Both are completely different but both touched me in ways I can hardly explain. On Hearts Too Heavy Moreland spoke to me directly and made me question many of my relationships; as he does in the soft Rock song.
Cherokee on the other hand had me bawling like a baby when he muttered the opening lines, “I guess I got a taste for poison/I’ve given up on ever being well/I keep mining the horizon/digging for lies I’m yet to tell/I wish that you were hear to softly say my name/calm down all the chemicals tearing through my brain.”
To most other listeners this will still be an extra special, brittle love song; but to me and mine……Well; it’s a little bit extra special.
The album is bookended with the deceptively jaunty beat of High on Tulsa Heat. This time the band manage to mask another beautiful and fragile song of love with a waltz; but story of adopted home town of Tulsa is still dark as the singer relishes the opportunity to return to his ‘safe place’ as soon as possible.
John Moreland is a rare find in this cluttered musical landscape; his songs are all raw and heartfelt but his voice and way with a tune means you don’t have to be the same ‘dark place’ I was to ‘get it.’
This album and singer will appeal to fans of all the great Americana singer-songwriters from James Taylor through Townes Van Zandt and closing with the likes of Jake Bugg.
Released April 2015