By Travis Erwin
John Moreland's latest offering, LP5, delivers the same acoustic sensibilities we have come to expect, while showcasing his notable evolution as an artist and as a human. The end product for the listener is honest, thought-provoking songwriting, delivered with authentic emotion.
The album opens with tender guitar notes pulling you into the single “Harder Dreams,” though Moreland’s poignant lyrics soon take over. And while it is hard not to get lost in the calm tones of his voice, the songwriting is what truly elevates both this track, and the entire album. The lines … Are you lonely in your convictions, staring through the glass tonight? Is the truth a work of fiction, better ask the blood-stained skies … stuck out for me, but the emotional imagery within this opening song is gripping. This opening track foretells what’s to come, in terms of quality of sound, songwriting prowess, and in the teasing the overriding theme.
With a bit more of a bluesy funk, “A Thought is Just a Passing Train” offers a different vocal style than the rest of the album. At nearly five and half minutes long, this second track has a jam groove that sort of relaxes your senses and allows you to close your eyes and settle in for the long haul. But don’t dismiss the power of the lyrics, because we’ve all been hit hard by an emotion, fear, or doubt, and this song is all about recognizing the brevity of such gut punches.
“East October” is the kind of track that subtly reveals itself. Painted with broad strokes in places and refined thoughts in others, the track repeatedly asks the question, … How Am I ever going to get by, all my myself? The song left me thinking about a divorced man reflecting on the memorabilia of a marriage gone bad. Though the fact it was written with a nod to Chris Porter’s song, “East December,” makes it clear Moreland wrote it from more of a grieving friend’s viewpoint. Porter passed away in 2016. That such a song can be parlayed into broader emotion is more proof of Moreland’s talent for bringing forth our humanity.
My personal favorite track on the album is “Learning How to Tell Myself the Truth." The song delivers unrelenting truth. Coming via a stream-of-consciousness style, the track brings out the nuances of Moreland’s emotional vocals. This track is the musical equivalent of staring into the mirror and talking to the person looking back.
“Two Stars” is a soft guitar instrumental that bridges the gap over to “Terrestrial,” another track about overcoming the self-doubt and uncertainty that washes over all of us at times. Discovering what is real both within our own heads and the outside world around us is the prevailing thought behind much of this well-written album.
Moreland again pays homage to his friend, Chris Porter, with the track “In Between Times.” Written a mere two weeks after Porter’s untimely passing, Moreland puts words to the kind of grief that often leaves others speechless. The pain is palpable, and his voice is raw, over a stripped-down melody.
Not known for love songs, Moreland proves he can take on the most vulnerable of emotions with “When My Fever Breaks,” a track he began writing, while first dating his wife. The song took him more than three years to finish, but the result is a song that stays with you. It feels genuine without resorting to being overly sentimental, simply for the sake of the poetry.
“I Always Let You Burn Me to the Ground,” feels like a goodbye, not in the literal sense, but in the admission of our own weaknesses, so that we can finally let the ashes of our past blow away in the wind. “For Ichiro” is another instrumental track that serves as an emotional reset. This track has a digital vibe laid over keys and a guitar, making it feel slightly out of place with the album, though it is tranquil and entertaining enough to certainly have merit.
The album finishes with “Let Me Be Understood,” which is fitting, because I imagine this is the internal plea of every songwriter, when they release new material out into the world. But here, this track is about growth and wisdom that comes to us on down the road, giving us a new outlook over hindsight. Bluesy and folksy, the track brings forth many of Moreland’s best sounds, both musically and vocally, and as always, the songwriting is relatable and makes you ponder your place in this world.
Or perhaps more importantly, the song and the album are meant to reinforce the fact we all have these complex thoughts and emotion running through our heads. And the lasting message is that it's okay to let them in, because we will emerge on the other side all the better for having them. As a writer and fan of his work, I hope that is what Moreland wanted understood, but no matter the intent, his new album, LP5 is definitely worth your listen.
LP5 is available Friday everywhere you buy or stream music.
A native Texan, Travis Erwin is an author and music reviewer now living in Southern California. Find his novels and memoir, anywhere books are sold, or visit him in the Twitterverse, via @traviserwin.