Latest studio album from Moreland finds him in warmer mood, but still chasing life’s puzzles.
John Moreland has been on a journey for some time now. The latest milestone along the way is this, his sixth, studio album, ‘Birds In The Ceiling’. Those of you journeying with him, will know him from his previous albums- ‘Earthbound Blues’ 2011, ‘In the Throes’ 2013, ‘High On Tulsa Heat’ 2015, ‘Big Bad Luv’ 2017, ‘LP5’ 2019, and a number of self-released live recordings.
Those who haven’t yet picked up on his journey to date, may want to dip their toe into ‘In the Throes’, High on Tulsa Heat’ and ‘LP5’ to catch up on the itinerary. You will find a progression from simple plucked guitar and heartfelt vocals, to a more expansive sound, with some jazz and soul influences.
In creating 2017’s ‘Big Bad Luv’, Moreland wanted to shake off accusations of being too ‘sad’, gained unfairly from his earlier releases which reflected honestly on the more challenging end of life’s challenges, some of them from his own lived experience. His albums since have moved from an inward focus, to being more externally focussed. This has been helped by a move from recording his early albums alone, to working with a close set of collaborators that he considers ‘family’.
He has visited UK shores a number of times down the years to play live- supporting Jason Isbell on a UK tour and then on his own solo tours, usually accompanied on stage by talented multi-instrumentalist, John Calvin Abney, his fellow Oklahoma-based collaborator and consiglieri.
Abney has himself been busy of late. As well as being a major contributor to the sound on this album, playing pianos, ukulele, synths and mellotron, he recently released his own solo album ‘Tourist’ which received good critical acclaim on this website, and has produced albums for others, including The Damn Quails’ 2022 album ‘Clouding Up Your City’.
‘Birds in The Ceiling’ continues the transition of Moreland’s work from that unfair ‘sad’ moniker to a warmer sound albeit with lyrics still reflecting on life and the bumps along the way. ‘Transition’ in music can be something that challenges existing fans, while finding new ones. This album, as a departure in style, may not be to everyone’s liking, but it will please a wider audience.
Opening track, ‘Ugly Faces’, finds Moreland’s voice with a minimal backing of drum beats, piano, synths and guitar, ebbing and flowing like the tide. It is probably the best example on the album of how his journey has progressed, and also the roads and avenues yet to be explored. Other quieter tracks on the album bring to mind some of Springsteen’s more reflective songs both in terms of delivery and quality. It is a recording that rewards patience and a number of listens to fully appreciate it.
This is a gifted artist continuing on a journey, an album that delivers for today and brings promise of even richer pickings down the road. Take the journey with him.