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John Moreland

High on Tulsa Heat – 2015 (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by John Moreland

Here is a strong songwriter scene which focuses more on poetic lyrics and beautiful music than charts. It is the difference between East Nashville coffeehouses and downtown's tourist row of cover bands. Artists like Sturgill Simpson and Cory Branan provide an escape from the mainstream chart toppers. From this stubbornly resilient anti-scene comes John Moreland, the latest deep songwriter with a punk pedigree.

On his latest full length, Moreland, an Okie, pens a dark collection of heart broken and world weary stories. The slight gravelly tone to his song adds weight to his delivery, as he alternates between pedal steel heavy mid-tempo rockers like "Heart's Too Heavy" and the sparse "Cleveland County Blues," which centers on his voice and occasional Dobro flourishes. Standout track "Cherokee" is in the same vein, a quiet song with plenty of emotional weight. He expresses sorrow through deep lines like "I see you shining through the treetops, but don't feel you pulling strings anymore."

While his music and vocals are great, Moreland's songs stand out because of his wonderful way with words. Bold imagery adds to the weight of somber songs like "White Flag," where he sings, "I'm just a lonely star, trying to burn my way through heaven's floor." Perhaps only Chris Knight can reach the same level of melancholy in his weather worn characters, full of regret and sadness.

Like Jason Isbell's "Southeastern," this is largely a restrained collection of melancholy songs with poetic lyrics. The rock edge of Moreland's past is absent here for the most part. This continues the growth that he showed on "In the Throes," refining the song writing to a sharp edge. "High on Tulsa Heat" is the kind of music designed for Kristofferson's Sunday mornings coming down.