Weighty is a good word for John Moreland and that’s no sly childish quip on a guy carrying more than quite a few pounds. Such is his vocal delivery, gritty song writing and overall demeanour that everything on tonight’s Jazz Cafe stage came with a sorrowful and hefty gravitas. Perhaps the only piece of comedy of the night was the board outside advertising him as ‘Blues Guitarist John Moreland’. Well, he does play guitar and he certainly has the inner blues, so then again.
Aided on guitar and occasional harmonica by fellow Okie John Calvin Abney (who had appeared in the opening support slot) he began with ‘Salisaw Blue’ and ‘Old Wounds’, the opening tracks on 2017’s well received ‘Big Bad Luv’ LP. With lyrics such as “You gotta kill whatever’s been killing you” from ‘Oh Julia’ and “Tried to get high, but this heart’s too heavy’ from ‘Heart’s too Heavy’ he immediately had the Jazz Cafe crowd sucked in with a creaking sombreness.
Calvin Abney provided a suitably haunting & piercing guitar on the Springsteen like ‘Lies I Chose To Believe’ with lyrics such as “These days when I pray I don’t close my eyes, I just bite my tongue a little harder,” the kind of words Bruce or Steve Earle would ache for. Moreland played a few tracks solo including the perfectly apt for the modern day ‘American Flags In Black & White’ – “We’re the losers in this fight” he sings or perhaps informs. An encore closed the night with Moreland singing ‘Break My Heart Sweetly’. You already have John…you already have.
Support came from John Calvin Abbey, a fine young tunesmith with more than a hint of early Josh Rouse although, perhaps due to his mannerisms & demeanour, the crowd seemed to think mainly Dylan. So much so he even comfortably addressed this onstage. He’s a fan of ‘Blood on the Tracks’, JJ Cale and anything 1973 (“the greatest music year” he tells us). I’d not the heart to point out that in the UK in 1973 the hits were led by a certain Gary Glitter. That would’ve been a cruel blow to his young hopes and nostalgic imagery.