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John Moreland’s ‘LP5’ Finds Strength in Simplicity

Americana's John Moreland has a deep voice and sings without affectation. There's an honesty in his straightforward delivery and something down-to-earth even in his most lofty sentiments.

John Moreland
Old Omens
7 February 2020

As the title suggests, LP5 is John Moreland‘s fifth full-length album in 12 years. The Oklahoma native cranks them out slowly like a farmer on an old International Harvester pulling a moldboard plow and making straight rows in the dirt. And like the planter, he digs the furrows deep. Moreland doesn’t always say much. He’s the kind of writer who will use a few words instead of a verse to create an image, convey a thought, or invoke emotions. But what he does verbalize succinctly reverberates meaningfully.

Moreland offers simple truths. He has a deep voice and sings without affectation. There’s an honesty in his straightforward delivery and something down-to-earth even in his most lofty sentiments. A great example can be found with the appropriately entitled “Terrestrial”, where he finds the glory in singing “Hallelujah”, even as he admits that among other like-minded people, he feels earthbound and alone.

“Damn it all to hell, don’t it mean a thing?” Moreland asks declaratively on “In Times Between” as he watches love disappear. The ten songs on the album provide more questions than answers, even if it seems he’s mostly talking to himself. “Is the truth a work of fiction?” Moreland queries on the opening track. He implies that the answer is a disquieting maybe. The music itself is pensive and martial as he ponders personal responsibility during a troubled period. Time passing brings confusion instead of clarity as one never really understands one’s place in the world. Instead, we all move on to “Harder Dreams”.

Moreland is more confessional than conversational. As song titles such as “A Thought Is Just a Passing Train” and “I’m Learning How to Tell Myself the Truth” suggest, Moreland takes reflection seriously. He acknowledges the importance of having other people in one’s life, such as on the love song “When My Fever Breaks”, but for most of the album, he wonders how he’s going to get by all by himself. As listeners, we share in the isolation. We receive the consolation of being alone together as a reward.

And sometimes Moreland says the most when he doesn’t even open his mouth, such as on the two quiet instrumentals, “Two Stars” and “For Ichiro”. He uses his guitar to evoke natural sounds: raindrops, wind in the trees, bird calls, and such. Drummer Matt Pence (Centro-Matic, Jay Farrar, Justin Townes Earle) produced the record—the first Moreland disc that he didn’t self-produce. Pence does a marvelous job of keeping the sound clear and intimate while keeping the music moving forward. Several of the songs begin with a tapping rhythm to set the tone and tempo before Moreland makes his presence known.

The percussive beats also allow Moreland to express tenderness. His low voice suggests a manly and authoritative figure, like a father or older brother who consoles one just by his presence. Moreland doesn’t need to raise the volume of his voice to be heard. His dignity and comportment come through even when admitting weakness. The ten songs here reveal that sometimes vulnerability conveys a greater strength than a show of force.

RATING 8 / 10
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