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John Moreland Brings Back The Old Fashioned Idea Of The Album With 'LP5'

Feb 13, 2020
Originally published on February 14, 2020 8:25 am
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. John Moreland is a Tulsa, Okla.-based singer-songwriter who's just released a new album called "LP5." Moreland's notable fans range from Miranda Lambert to Rachel Maddow. Moreland's known for writing superb sad songs, but rock critic Ken Tucker says this new album shows a wider range of emotions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EAST OCTOBER")

JOHN MORELAND: (Singing) Looking backwards, all my pictures look like send-ups of stolen scriptures. We were children dressed up like men painting places we'd never been. How am I ever going to get by? How am I ever going to get by all by myself?

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Just when I thought the last thing I wanted to hear was a guy strumming an acoustic guitar and moaning about how unhappy he is, along comes John Moreland and his new album, called "LP5." What can I tell you? When someone revitalizes a genre as well-worn or as worn down as singer-songwriter confessionalism is, you just have to acknowledge and admire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I ALWAYS LET YOU BURN ME TO THE GROUND")

MORELAND: (Singing) We never talked about survival. I don't know what good talking would have done. My long-lost revival withered up in the adolescent sun. Lost, let down - I always let you burn me to the ground. I am unwound. I always let you burn me to the ground.

TUCKER: The LP of the album title refers, of course, to long playing, the outmoded name for an outmoded medium, the vinyl record album. These days, the primary unit of musical creativity is the single. The days of buying an album, bringing it home, putting it on and pondering how each composition fits into the sequence on the album - that's a thing of the past almost. John Moreland, although he's a mere 34, seems to have had this old-fashioned idea of the album in mind when he carefully assembled the flow of mood and tone on "LP5."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A THOUGHT IS JUST A PASSING TRAIN")

MORELAND: (Singing) Looking at a night sky all sewn up with stars. Looking at a night sky all sewn up with stars. Look me in the eye now. Show me who you are. I had a thought about darkness. A thought's just a passing train. I had a thought about darkness. A thought's just a passing train. When you feel your weakest, somebody knows your name.

MORELAND: Moreland says he started out playing in hardcore punk bands before he started listening to music his father introduced him to, mostly folk and country. His first three albums were recorded with bands but don't really sound like the artist he became, starting with his first solo album, "Earthbound Blues," in 2011. From that point on, Moreland concentrated on the grain of his own voice accompanied by his acoustic guitar, writing and performing songs about how difficult it is to find someone who shares your sense of just how miserable life can be. But unlike most miserable singer-songwriters, there's very little self-pity in Moreland's writing, and there are numerous chronicles here of a man trying to reach beyond his own emotions to understand the lives of the people around him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M LEARNING HOW TO TELL MYSELF THE TRUTH")

MORELAND: (Singing) Congratulations on your book. Your sharp-tongued wit had me shook. Thought about trying a little too long. Give it up now. The good Lord's gone. But we could put a record on. We could dance on this shattered glass till dawn. We could try to make it disappear, all the cold we hold so dear. I'm learning how to tell myself the truth, forget all the [expletive] I used to think I knew. Forgive me if I cannot give you proof. I just want to move you.

TUCKER: Moreland cites influences such as Gillian Welch, Tom Petty, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt, and I think he's better than half that list already. One reason he's so good is that while his best songs contain novelistic details, they never strain for literary effect. I love this quote of his.

I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a guy in a band. People ask me if I ever write poetry or stories. I don't do any of that stuff. If I'm not going to sing it, I don't want to write it.

The funny thing is, by declining pretensions to art, John Moreland achieves it wonderfully.

DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed the new album from John Moreland called "LP5."

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN MY FEVER BREAKS")

MORELAND: (Singing) Star-crossed eyes and cross-eyed stars - no use hiding age-old scars. Well, you're not here, and I can't be still. I don't think I'll sleep until I see you. The strongest will, the softest touch - I never knew I'd have so much. You call me out and rein me in riding through the rain again tonight. Hold my hand and ease my aches. Wake me up when my fever breaks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.