When we think of great lyricists in the indie country or Americana scene, almost all eyes towards the usual suspects, you know, the Jason Isbell and James McMurtrys of the world. However, one name that has quietly ranked just as high as them is John Moreland.
Sure, he’s not the flashiest or most marketable performer out there, but when it’s all said and done who cares about that stuff anyway? When it comes down to it, what matters is the music presented, and John Moreland has never disappointed in that aspect.
I’ve probably played “Break My Heart Sweetly” a million times by now, and while I only recently gave two of his other albums (In The Throes and High On Tulsa Heat) listens for the first time (for the sake of research), I’ve always admired John’s approach to music, minimalist with a focus on very dark, melancholy, (but all the more insightful) songs that really connect on a rare emotional level.
And that’s important to point out, because the writing has been on the wall that his new album, Big Bad Luv would be a departure for John in terms of sound and lyricism, and for the most part, that promise lives up. He’s a married man now, and with that comes a newfound happiness and perspective.
Now, that begs the million dollar question of “what has changed” as well as “is it for the better”? In regards to the latter, I would say it’s not hitting me as hard as his last two albums, but in regards to the former, thankfully the changes made seem to be for the better. For starters there’s an actual backing band on most of these songs, and while the tone of John’s songwriting has shifted course, the strong foundation that his writing rests upon hasn’t withered away in the slightest.
Songs like “Latchkey Kid” and “Lies I Chose To Believe” both carry on John’s knack for writing emotionally heavy softer tracks that get to the heart. The latter in particular also serves as a nice homage to the future as well as John tries to strip away that darkness.
Of course, if you want to talk about stepping into a new light, tracks like the dirty harmonica driven rhythm of “Sallisaw Blue or the similarly styled “Ain’t We Gold” are surprisingly enough moments of fun on the record. It sounds weird to hear about a John Moreland album I know, but it’s true. And again, the writing is on the wall for that as well. I always liked the tender lead off track “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” for stating that up front. Heck, my favorite song on the record may be the extremely fun and lively, “Amen, So Be It”. The buildup in the chorus is nice, and that guitar solo (!) is the shot of upbeat energy we need in 2017.
Aside from that, I also liked the acoustic melody of “Every Kind Of Wrong” a lot, and “Slow Down Easy” is another good symbol for the overarching theme of this album.
Now, I won’t quite say I love it, and really, it all boils down to a matter of what I’ve heard from John thus far. I will admit, there isn’t a song hitting me as hard as some of his best have done on an emotional level, and that’s fine. He’s a happy and changed man, and it’s selfish of me to want anything else other than his happiness. Besides, it’s the happier tracks that I find to be the best among the bunch. Still, I just wanted to be upfront about my feelings about the impact on me.
I will also say that not ever track here develops as much as I want to. I’ve already noted the overall theme of finding happiness on this album, and I would say there comes a point where it starts to get repetitive such as “Slow Down Easy”, and tracks like “Old Wound” and “No Glory In Regret” are fine lyrically, albeit a little dry melodically. I also wasn’t really a fan of the clanking noises that can be heard on the track “Love Is Not An Answer”.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: So overall, while Big Bad Luv is a very different album for John Moreland, I’d still say for the most part that it retains a lot of what makes John Moreland great in the first place. The writing is strong throughout, and while I still say that shift in perspective isn’t hitting me as hard as his last albums have, I’d still say it’s a good album. John’s style won’t be for everyone, but if you’ve been a fan in the past you’ll most likely enjoy this, and for those who haven’t been as enamored up until this point, maybe this will change your mind. So for me, it’s a 7/10.