John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat

John Moreland proves there's nothing sanctimonious about singing the truth on High on Tulsa Heat.

John Moreland

High on Tulsa Heat

Label: Old Omens / Thirty Tigers
US Release Date: 2015-04-21
UK Release Date: 2015-04-21
Label website
Artist website

As I wrote in the preface to the PopMatters Best Americana of 2014, the genre is one "where honest craftsmanship is required, respected, and rewarded… the songs and music are what count." Few artists working today typify this statement more than John Moreland. The former punk kid from Oklahoma found his way to songwriting via Steve Earle, yet politics and global matters have no home in Moreland's songs; homespun truths ripped from the soul, the pain unearthed from within is Moreland's specialty.

Over the course of two solo albums Moreland has amassed an ardent following that hangs on his every word. Regarded as the voice of a niche demographic that revels in whiskey nights, heartbreak, punk rock and sweaty bodies, Moreland's words are the lyrical baptism required come Sunday morning. Garnering attention for his introspective 2013 album, In the Throes, two of that album's songs were used on Sons of Anarchy alongside the likes of Tony Joe White, Quaker City Night Hawks and the Saint Johns.

On his third solo album, High on Tulsa Heat, Moreland questions his own ability, singing "Well these angels in my eardrums / They can't tell bad from good / I lived inside these melodies / Just to make sure I still could" on "Heart's Too Heavy". Knowing his strengths, Moreland proclaims "I'm so damn good at sorrow" on "You Don't Care Enough for Me to Cry", which can almost be taken as an in-joke for those familiar with Moreland's oeuvre. Solo in name, Moreland and his acoustic guitar are all that adorn opener "Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars". Playing all instruments on "American Flags in Black and White", his cautious take on nostalgia, Moreland gives way to others on the album's remaining eight songs.

Even with musical intervention, a Moreland song is a Moreland song no matter its players or arrangement. Always present are themes of love ("You Don't Care for Me Enough to Cry"), longing ("Cleveland County Blues") and guilt ("Sad Baptist Rain"). Unlike the mostly acoustic In the Throes, High on Tulsa Heat features contributions from fellow Okies John Calvin Abney (guitar, organ, harmonica), Jared Tyler (dobro), Kierston White (backing vocals) and Jesse Aycock (pedal steel), providing a more diverse recording as evidenced by the electrified "Heart's Too Heavy", hook-filled "Losing Sleep Tonight" and swelling closer "High on Tulsa Heat".

Having proffered up the notion that "Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore" on In the Throes, Moreland himself continues to debunk such a myth. Akin to selecting one's favorite child, choosing one High on Tulsa Heat lyric over another is a thankless task. With lines like "Won't you roll out that red carpet / When we all wind up dead / Your smoke rings fade like a memory / You were honest as a ghost, baby / Twice as free" ("Heart's Too Heavy"), "I'd still feel your fingers on my soul" ("Cleveland County Blues"), "Are you worried that you're happier / At war than at peace" ("Losing Sleep Tonight") and "I guess I got a taste for poison / I've given up on ever being well / I keep mining the horizon / Digging for lies I've yet to tell" ("Cherokee"), Moreland speaks to and for those who deeply care about matters of the heart.

Just as Townes Van Zandt influenced Steve Earle, who in turn impacted Moreland, the Oklahoma songwriter will be the touchstone for the next generation of Americana artists should tradition hold. Already the standard-bearer for today's brood that includes Abney, Caleb Caudle and M. Lockwood Porter, Moreland proves there's nothing sanctimonious about singing the truth on High on Tulsa Heat.







The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.