John Moreland: Big Bad Luv
Album: Big Bad Luv
Release: May 2016
“It’s no use, god bless these blues, let’s get wrecked and bruised and battered”
So says John Moreland in the opening track, “Sallisaw Blue” from his newest record, Big Bad Luv, a record that seems like tailor-made for doing exactly what he recommends. On his fourth solo album, Moreland grows into music beyond his well-trod “sad bastard” songs. In an excellent May 2017 profile written by Jonathan Bernstein at Rolling Stone, Moreland was explicit about the point of his earlier, darker work:
"When I was writing that record, I was like, 'I want to wreck people. I'm going to make all these motherfuckers cry'"
There’s still plenty of that to be found on Big Bad Luv; he hasn’t lost his brooding ballads, his Tom Waits-by-way-of-Steve Earle charm, nor has he lost his red dirt (or punk rock) roots. But this record finds Moreland a little more hopeful than in the past, and his sound is the better for it. Big Bad Luv, overall, has a warmer sound than his previous efforts, and blends the two-step of traditional country with Moreland’s slightly-raspy vocals, with an altogether bigger, more expansive sound than High on Tulsa Heat, his previous, desperate-sounding release, which found fans as well-known (and influential) as Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert, the latter of whom hosted Moreland for a breathtaking, devastating performance of “Break My Heart Sweetly” in February 2016:
Big Bad Luv finds an extraordinarily talented songwriter growing into his voice his and sound, and expanding it. Side A standout “Lies I Choose to Believe” has a sandy-sounding snare shuffle accompanied by a sparse Bruce Hornsby-ish piano lead which finds Moreland taking stock of his life, and seemingly coming to a kind of peace with it. Side B kicks off with the excellent “Amen, So Be It”, which sounds like a B-Side from Ryan Adams’ Gold, but replaces the relative optimism of that record with Moreland’s straightforward “world as it is” viewpoint.
If there’s a single track on the record that feels out of place, it might be “Slow Down Easy”, which sounds like a foot-stomping rabble-rouser that would do wonders in an Oklahoma bar on a hot Saturday night in July, but feels a little out of place on this record. But it’s followed by such a gem of a song that I forgive it, because also on Side B, “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” is, perhaps, the best song of the record, and maybe one of the best Moreland’s ever published. There’s a lot to be said for a song that can describe the person you were before, and the person you are now, and, in Moreland’s telling of it, how you reconcile the two.