POSTED ON JULY 11, 2012:
Doing It His Own Way
John Moreland returns with a new chapter in his book of rock
Back in 2008, John Moreland released Endless Oklahoma Sky with his then group, The Black Gold Band. At the time, it was a blast of hard-edged Americana that we hadn't seen come out of Tulsa for a long time. An engaging mix of Middle American rock that echoed elements of Springsteen, Petty and Mellencamp, it also took on a new edge by incorporating a punk edge and energy that came from Moreland's early days.
As rock fate would have it, The Black Gold Band ran its course and dissolved. Moreland may have faded into the background, but he never quit making music. Fans know that he remained quite prolific, releasing two more albums: Things I Can't Control, under the Paper & Plastick label and Earthbound Blues, independently. He also continued to crank out a number of singles and short EP's, releasing them independently via bandcamp.com.
In fact, it was due to the visceral nature of Earthbound Blues and the split single "Tear Me Apart" with "Blues and Kudzu," that local businessman Justin Orcutt was inspired to found Okie Tone Records, specifically to help artists like Moreland get their material out. Orcutt got all of the pieces in place early this year and partnered with Moreland for the label's first release, Everything the Hard Way, by John Moreland and the Dustbowl Souls.
If you've followed Moreland and been able to track down his work, you know he never fails to deliver. This time he steps up with another hard hitting 10 songs that marry Springsteen and Mellencamp with a gritty muscle reminiscent of Social Distortion and Chuck Ragan. Just recently, I was wondering what happened to straight forward, no-gimmicks rock-and-roll in Tulsa. Apparently, it's not dead, it's just been hiding. The release of Everything the Hard Way proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
Right out of the gate, Moreland pulls no punches with a dark acoustic guitar reminiscent of "Atlantic City" and the opening line "Here's another song in the key of G ..." on the title track, a brief intro to the explosion of "Low," which punches you in the gut with big guitars and a thunderstorm of energy.
Slightly more polished and refined than Earthbound Blues, Everything the Hard Way is no-frills rock that asks if you want more. That's not to take away from Earthbound Blues, which had both an elegance and a soulful swagger. That's also not meant to lessen the effect of the new album. It's just a different creature -- and right from the start you know this is a bare-bones story about struggle and standing in the face of adversity.
Moreland's tunes never fail to hit home, and these songs are no different. He attacks personal struggles, economic woes and emotional scars in a manner that not many others can. Sure, he's hitting on universal themes, but he does it without sounding contrived or clichéd. Even when he turns back to a more subdued acoustic track like "Gods," it just punches you all the harder as the starkness of the track and his gravelly vocals close, like your'e listening to the confessions of a heartbroken soul.
In the next turn, Moreland comes back out swinging on "Christian Rock," letting you know that he may be down, but not out. Everyone hits low points, but it's getting up and fighting on that matters -- and Moreland does just that with his music. It's the story of the human condition, encapsulated in a rock package.
Moreland has always been great at painting that picture in music and capturing it on record. Fortunately, Okie Tone Records has stepped up to get this latest chapter in people's hands. It's only apropos that the label has issued Everything The Hard Way on vinyl, as this is the kind of music that you feel like you can wrap your hands and heart around. Or perhaps it's the other way around and the music wraps itself around you. Either way, Moreland's songs and their heartfelt delivery are a perfect fit for the warmth of vinyl. Of course, you can also get it for your iPod via Moreland's Bandcamp site and on digital outlets like iTunes.
Perhaps more importantly for fans, however, is the fact that after laying low, Moreland has finally gotten a touring version of the Dustbowl Souls together and is now getting out to play select dates to support this record and the other material he has built up in his catalog.
Over the past year or two, Moreland has been playing acoustic gigs with Mike Williams, trading songs on Monday nights at The Max and playing other select shows. Williams steps up on bass for the current band configuration with Steve Walden recreating his drum parts from the current album and additional guitarist Brian Williams stepping up to fill out the songs.
Moreland and his band played Little Rock last weekend with Drag the River for a show that not only saw the band come to life, but drew rave reviews. It seems Moreland has found a band that he's satisfied with and that can deliver these songs appropriately. More importantly, though, is the fact that he's finally ready to step out and bring these songs to life after a long hiatus from group performance.
Tulsa finally gets a chance to hear his catalog come back to life with a roaring live show as John Moreland and the Dustbowl Souls play Mercury Lounge this Friday night, July 13, opening for The Damn Quails at 10pm. That makes this a can't miss show as The Damn Quails arrive in town for a full-band performance in their return to Mercury Lounge in support of Down The Hatch, which has been garnering national airplay and rave reviews and is one of the best roots-based records to come out of Oklahoma last year.
You can bet it will be an exciting night as Moreland comes out as understated as always, but will undoubtedly deliver an inspired set that raises the bar for the evening before The Damn Quails come on. Cover is only $5 for the evening, which is more than reasonable for The Damn Quails alone. When adding the return of Moreland with a full band to the bill, however, it becomes a can't-miss night for local music fans.
Do yourself a favor and go download it or better yet, go experience it live this weekend and get it on vinyl at the show, then take it home and let it wrap you up as you soak it in.
Thank God for real rock-and-roll and the souls that make it, even if they have to do it the hard way.
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