John Moreland – “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore”
I don’t watch a lot of television; when I do it’s mostly the news. A busy family life plus a lot of time away on the road certainly puts a kink in being able to keep up with a series-based drama, so I’ve missed most of the likes of Justified and Sons Of Anarchy. When I do catch an episode, it’s clear many of these shows have a pretty cool music policy. Among the likes of Good Luck Mountain, White Buffalo and Dolorean, there’s much more that I don’t recognise and sends me off ‘googling’ lyrics I’ve heard.
One such song would have been John Moreland’s ‘Heaven’, which I missed in a episode of Sons Of Anarchy, and so it was that I was unaware of him until word began to circulate recently of his new album, In The Throes. A lot of people whose opinions I respect were proclaiming it as something very special. I duly sought out some of his earlier work, was suitably impressed and eager to hear his latest. I’ve got it now: oh, it’s good!
Largely self-performed (Moreland plays 99% of the instruments) and self-produced, In The Throes distills heart-felt songwriting to its most potent. It is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen (Nebraska/Tom Joad), Chris Knight and Slaid Cleaves – but only ‘reminiscent’, never wholly the same. He has produced a record that will (I hope) come to be seen as unique and will itself be a touchstone for those that follow.
Moreland has a profound ability to frame a lyric so perfectly in a song, to leave a line reverberating while the music carries it way deeper than the words alone ever could. He knows how to pitch in stark visual imagery in the way that masters like John Prine, Dylan and Bruce do so well. Plenty of ‘screen door slams’ moments here – at times, this isn’t so much songwriting as alchemy with words and music.
There are no weak songs among the ten here. Highlights for me are ‘Blacklist’ (an outsiders’ anthem in the making – “with or without any reasion we did rebeliion what justice we could”) and ‘3:59am’ (probably the time it was written, judging by the soul-searching lyrics) – and I’ll bet most ND’ers will agree with the sentiment on ‘Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore’, voicing the frustration of seeing so much vapid music and ‘artists’ taking the easy route (“born last week with your foot in the door, I heard truth is what songs are for”). Album closer, ‘Blues And Kudzu” marries Moreland’s ‘choir of cicadas’ lyrics with a show-stopping arrangement that should easily see him making another appearance on a TV show soon.
Moreland’s place in the Last Chance Records stable will endear him to fans of Chuck Ragan and his many imitators. My own (small) personal reservation about that cadre of artists is that they are too formulaic (there are too many lyrical clichés, similar delivery). Not so here: given the right platform, John Moreland could be well placed to bring together followers of the older ‘traditional’ legends and the ‘folk-punk’ youngsters.
A shoo-in for the Festive Fifteen, then, and set to be an album I can’t live without: stream, borrow, beg or (hell!) buy In The Throes. If I’m even halfway right, you won’t be disappointed.
Gilded Palace Radio Show Playlist from 17th June:
Show streaming 24/7 at www.totallyradio.com
(link to ‘player’ on front page and scroll through shows to ‘Gilded Palace’)