John Moreland – LP5
John Moreland is a blue-collar rough hewn soul who can write a melancholy lyric with such perception that you’re immediately drenched with pathos. His 2017 masterpiece Big Bad Luv set the bar so high that I approached LP5 with a little trepidation. The relief is that it’s another triumph.
His gruff yet mellifluous voice conveying memorable tunes over an acoustic guitar is his hallmark. He can nail a melody that captivates. That’s the formula here. However, this is a whole way more sophisticated sounding record. After sharing his production responsibilities with producer Matt Pence it appears the latter has brought a different feel. Pence drums and adds ambient percussive beats. Everything becomes lighter, flowing and uplifting.
Pence has drummed or produced for Paul Cauthen, Nikki Lane, Jason Isbel and Midlake. It’s this breadth and alternative thinking that he brings whilst never disturbing Moreland’s talent for a poignant observation or melody. (It’s impossible not to draw comparisons with David Gray’s 1998 White Ladder release in terms of percussive sounds: this has since shifted 7 million copies!). Such is the importance of the sound of this album that two of the 11 tracks are short instrumentals.
“Harder Dreams” is the album opener. Over these unusual sounds that rotate on a loop the song builds with acoustic guitar, keys and harmonica. The rhythm grabs you, as does the feeling that you’re rising with a building tide of exquisite sound. “East October” shuffles along to a gentle drum beat. Backing vocals, lo-fi electric guitar and electric piano gives this a beautiful feel. “Terrestrial” chimes with piano keys alternating with a shuffling drumbeat; Moreland sings about having been lost but now he’s found. The combination of vocals, rhythm and thoughtful words are irresistible.
Moreland says, “I do feel more mellow. Settled. I don’t feel as antsy or think I’ve got to prove myself anymore. I feel really comfortable and free to do what I want to do”. However lyrically he does rummage deep within his soul to reflect on relationships and their challenges to belie this statement. On “Let Me Be Understood” he sings “I used to walk around with shackles on my hands / back when I still needed you to tell me who I am / we were standing at the dawn, unaware of the flood / the rain pours on and on, lord let us be understood.”
Such personal deliberations are his métier. It’s the way he rolls. I will be playing this throughout the year.