Music

John Moreland: Big Bad Luv

Photo: Joey Kneiser

Big Bad Luv might just turn 2017 into the Year of John Moreland.


John Moreland

Big Bad Luv

US Release: 2017-05-05
UK Release: 2017-05-05
Label: 4AD
Amazon
iTunes

Big Bad Luv is Oklahoman John Moreland’s fourth solo record and the seventh (counting albums with Black Gold Band and Dust Bowl Souls) to feature his gruff vocals and ever-developing songwriter’s eye for telling tales of broken dreams and stubborn streaks. Originally inspired by his discovery of Steve Earle to trade punk for folk, Moreland’s last couple records (High on Tulsa Heat and In the Throes) evoked other masters of downtrodden, working class folk like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Dave Alvin. His songs of gentle beauty and stubborn perseverance caught the ears of Sons of Anarchy producers, who included three of his songs over that series’ run.

With Big Bad Luv, Moreland’s already impressive growth curve takes another sharp turn upward. Here, he creates a folk-inflected rock 'n' roll record that calls to mind the Band’s best moments, though comparisons to Springsteen and the E Street Band in their prime are sure to come as well. Basically, Big Bad Luv can hold its own next to any of the great Americana-tinged rock 'n' roll records of the past, from Scarecrow to Full Moon Fever to Copperhead Road.

Big Bad Luv opens with a big bang: “Salisaw Blue” is the kind of driving, careening song that fans will still be shouting for at shows ten years from now. “I don’t own anything / You don’t know shit,” Moreland sings with an audible grin, inviting the listener along on what promises to be a memorable, if not downright dangerous, excursion: “Let’s get wrecked and bruised and battered.” When there’s nothing to lose, there’s everything to risk. “Old Wounds” continues on the promise of maybe getting hurt while trying to find something better. “Love’s a violent word, don’t you forget it,” Moreland reminds us before dispensing the kind of offhand songwriting advice that betrays his brilliance: “If we don’t bleed, it don’t feel like a song.” Wherever this engine is taking us, there’s ample promise it will be worth the trip.

In his quieter moments, as on “No Glory in Regret” or the excellent album-closer “Latchkey Kid”, Moreland’s plucked melodies can evoke the late Dave Carter, his lyrics, too, revealing a similar and surprising tenderness. Moreland has a knack, like in “Every Kind of Wrong”, for playing the unapologetic loner/loser/lover all in one stroke, stubbornly persistent, flawed but forgivable. He cuts to the sincere but imperfect heart of matters of the heart. “I don’t need an answer,” he sings later in his Springsteen-like drawl, “I need you.” And if Springsteen had written “Lies I Chose to Believe” for his own Tunnel of Love album, there’d probably be fewer copies of that CD crowding used bins.

Where Moreland’s previous two records were low-key, solo productions, Big Bad Luv is a band record, with Moreland enjoying able accompaniment from a collection of trusted collaborators: Aaron Boehler on bass, Paddy Ryan on drums, and Jared Tyler on dobro. Multi-instrumentalist John Calvin Abney (who engineered High on Tulsa Heat) provides additional guitar support and trades keyboard duties with Lucero’s Rick Steff. The group provides sure footing whatever the musical terrain. Their playing on “Slow Down Easy” comes on like the Band’s “The Weight”, offering a sure-footed country groove capable of carrying dancers late into a humid Southern night. They marry the good advice of “Ain’t We Gold” to a swampy blues mix, amplifying that song’s search for personal strength and meaning amidst life’s chaos.

Simply put, Big Bad Luv is one of the best albums of 2017, a testament to living in the moment and letting the details sort themselves out.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Music

The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.

Reviews

'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.

Reviews

Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.

Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Music

GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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