Oklahoma’s John Moreland- A Man of Measured Words- A Review of ‘In the Throes’
Take a good, working rock and roll musician, strip him down to the basics, give him an acoustic guitar and say, ‘tell me what life’s taught you so far, seriously’ and in this perfect world you would get John Moreland and the deeply satisfying work, ‘In the Throes’. In the throes of what? you may well ask. In the throes of the important things between birth and death. Deciphering God, the devil, love and one’s place on this earth. In the throes of whatever passion holds you in its grips, come hell or high water.
Whether its having your eyes pried open against your will in the throes of young love or youthful idealism or the often cold realities of the music business.
Moreland has a solid history in current Oklahoma rock and roll having several albums to his credit often accompanied by the Black Gold Band or the Dust Bowl Souls. The band work is rock and roll, folk rock with some country blues and even rhythm and blues thrown in for good measure. Moreland seems to write all the material. And it is good.
But this latest offering is stripped down musically to minimal adornment. Vocals and acoustic guitar are front and center leaving Moreland’s strong, rugged voice and lyrics to flesh out the songs and breathe them to life. Organ, electric guitar, bass, harmonica and piano serve as highlights and serve their purpose quite effectively.
There is music for all occasions and then there’s music for sitting back with your favorite beverage and listening with your heart on your sleeve. Much as you listen to stories from dear friends when you know their hearts are loaded with cargo and they’ve got something to say. Such is John Moreland’s, ‘In the Throes’.
Born in Texas, he lived a while in Kentucky and eventually landed near Tulsa with his family when he was ten years old. The last eighteen years have been a proving ground for Moreland’s musical chops as he’s ventured slowly farther and farther from home. No stranger to the road Moreland regularly plays Tulsa, Little Rock, Fayetteville, Norman, Oklahoma City and later this summer on to Ft. Worth, Houston and St. Louis.
He says when he was growing up there were no serious musicians in his family but his dad toyed around with the guitar and always had one in the closet. When he moved here he had no friends to play basketball with him so he gravitated toward figuring out the guitar. Good call.
He plays well, sings well, writes well. He says his family has been very supportive of his choice to make music. When asked if he fully understood the calling to be a musician/songwriter he answered, “I’m not sure its a calling its just something I must do in order not to feel horrible”. Spoken like a true musician!
His song ‘Heaven’ regarding the loss of a loved one to drugs, was featured in an episode of tv show, Sons of Anarchy on the FX channel.
‘In the Throes’ gives the image of a soul stripped down primarily to its essentials. The lyrics are often moving, always relevant. God, religion and ‘the search’ seem to be a pivot point.
He credits, among others, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt as being early inspirations. He tells me he tried to craft songs the way they did and thought that if he did enough of it he might create songs that he could be proud of. Moreland is shy about his abilities and accomplishments but I trust he’s proud of ‘In the Throes’. I would be. In fact lots of people are raving about it already and it’s just been released.
On this CD there have inevitably been comparisons to Bruce Springsteen (as in his album,”Nebraska”). I even hear echoes of the spirit of Bob Dylan’s’ Highway 61 Revisited on the song ‘Julia’. He says he’s okay with comparisons but doesn’t dwell on them. He’s too busy to worry about such things.
Lyrics from: Blacklist
‘Well we never learned why we needed saved
We took a ride trying to hide from the god
Of early marriages and empty graves…’
The ‘god of early marriages and empty graves’. What a vision!
Lyrics from: ‘Your Spell’
‘We were 18 years of anger, bitter as the cold
And baby, we knew emptiness like a panhandle road
We’d pretend that we were dying, trying to survive
And make it through those high school nights alive
Remember the prom kings and queens, praised from afar
And how the lights inside the high school made them look like movie stars…’
Oh love and those high school days….
Lyrics from : Break My Heart Sweetly
I swore the days were over, courting empty dreams
I worshiped at the altar of losing everything
And you had a halo made of diamonds, resting on your head
I should be dealing with my demons, but I’m dodging them instead
Reminds me of denial. I spent lots of time there when I was younger.
Lyrics from: Gospel
I wanna make it out alive and never think about looking back
I wanna drive like hell when I steal the devil’s Cadillac
I wanna take that old Eldorado down a dirt road
With ‘How I Made it Over’ playing on the radio
Who among us hasn’t been adventurous and wanted to throw caution to the wind, just once?
There are more than a few biblical overtones here and I suspected he was rooted in the church. He answers:
“Yeah, I grew up in a fairly conservative Southern Baptist family. From the time I was born up until about age 16, my entire worldview and all my opinions were pretty much solely influenced by the evangelical church. All the years since then have sort of been this slow process of figuring out where I stand now that I’m not an impressionable kid anymore. I feel like I’m done with that at this point, but it keeps showing up in songs. I guess that stuff stays in your psyche forever”.
Nothing at all wrong with that I say.
Though primarily a guitar player on ‘In The Throes’ he played bass & drums on all but one song.
“I’m not very good at keyboard instruments, but I can kinda play the organ well enough to get by, so I did that on the record too,” he says.
Yeah, right! It all sounds good to me.
This 28 year old Oklahoman who has appeared on the same billing as the Turnpike Troubadors, Parker Millsap, Camille Harp, Ali Harter, Wink Burcham and many others all across this state is a solid talent doing good work. Go see him if you can. It’ll do you both good.
You can find his touring schedule and other information by going to www.johnmoreland.net or John Moreland on Facebook. Check out ‘In the Throes’ on Spotify, iTunes, or at his record label’s website: www.lastchancerecords.com