[sic] Magazine

John Moreland – Big Bad Luv

Upon leaving the Black Gold Band and Dust Bowl Souls, John Moreland cast himself adrift in the mould of the tortured solo artist. Four increasingly excellent singer-songwriting albums later and Moreland is done playing the loner. For one, he’s recently married; for another, Big Bad Luv comes backed with a full band including Lucero’s Rick Steff on keys. He’s immediately happier as an artist in their company, but that’s not to say he’s become some misplaced ray of sunshine. Far from it. Big Bad Luv still literally hurts in places, such as on the typically teary “Old Wounds”, a track which pointedly states in his gruff drawl that “If we don’t bleed, it don’t feel like a song”. Later, “Lies I Chose To Believe” is a knockout masterclass in the same vein, its tender piano and shuffling percussion containing as many hooks as its stone-cold Springsteen vocal.

Amongst these old-world warnings of fire and brimstone now come moments of flickering peace though, the swinging noose in dangerous heartland-rocker “Sallisaw Blue” now juxtaposed tellingly against the buzzing neon of the album’s title, “the heaven following the hurt.” 4AD might, consequently, not be the most obvious of labels for such an album of open-hearted Americana, but Moreland seems to be at that stage in his life that wherever he lays his hat may now justifiably be called home.

Moreland is a changed man in any case and a song like “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” proves it. As a song, it’s an Allman Brothers Southern-style groove that draws on pedal steel, but it’s also a metaphorical shedding of the skin too. No longer trapped by “a prisoner’s point of view”, it’s the sound of Moreland coming to terms, perhaps as surprised as anyone, with being in love. His wife evidently now gives his life purpose as the back-water blues of “Ain’t We Gold” confirms when he sings “Baby, it’s a good thing I got you”. Over the relatively jaunty, barroom piano-led strains of “I Don’t Need An Answer” (incidentally, a could-be lost Tom Petty cut), he makes it clear too that he simply no longer wishes to meet the devil he “sang those songs about”.

These are songs of countrified redemption all the same, but ones meant to be enjoyed with a large whisky in hand nonetheless, not whisky poured out “in the wind” for lost friends as is detailed on the devastating “No Glory In Regret”, pin-drop stuff that evokes thoughts of Nebraska-era Springsteen this time around, the kind of battered song that sounds like it’s been around forever. Moreland is better equipped these days to deal with such torment however, and – after grieving – it doesn’t consume him in the way it used to, although that does tend to happen when you’ve been to the edge and lived to tell the tale. Big Bad Luv is a record carved from Badlands rock, weathered and gnarled yet still standing in the face of all that has been thrown at it … so far. These are precarious structures in comparison though, for Big Bad Luv is also a landmark album likely to stand the absolute test of time too.

Best track: “Lies I Chose To Believe”

~Big Bad Luv is released May 5th 2017 via 4AD.~