Feb 18, 2020
Feb 6, 2020
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.
Dec 4, 2019
Oct 24, 2019
When you hear Jason Aldean playing over the speakers before you even walk into a store
New Sturgill Simpson be like...
Why should you buy the concert ticket?
Luke Bryan's dance crew practicing before a show
New John Moreland and American Aquarium albums next year?
When somebody asks me why I listen to so much sad country music
When Janet Weiss is a Kane Brown fan
Explaining Zac Brown's rise and fall
Aug 23, 2019
|Photo by Sean Rosenthal|
By Kevin Broughton
Jason Hawk Harris hit rock bottom during the writing and recording of his debut full-length albumLove and the Dark. In the last few years, the Houston-born-and-raised, Los Angeles-based musician endured life-altering hardships—illness, death, familial strife, and addiction—yet from these trials, a luxuriant and confident vision of art country emerged.
With an unlikely background, Harris is a singer/guitarist/songwriter who walks his own line, one that touches on Lyle Lovett’s lyrical frankness, John Moreland’s punk cerebralism and Judee Sill’s mysticism and orchestral sensibility. There’s even the literary and sonic audacity of an early Steve Earle, an outlaw unafraid to embrace harmony. Comparisons to Jason Isbell will inevitably follow, and they won’t be hyperbole, either.
While touring and performing in the indie folk band The Show Ponies,Jason started writing his own songs, intuitively returning to his country roots but incorporating his classical and rock ‘n’ roll performance skills. He released his first solo offering, the Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP in 2017 and hit the road.
Meanwhile, his world fell apart: his mother died from complications of alcoholism; his father went bankrupt after being sued by the King of Morocco; his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and gave birth to a premature son with cerebral palsy; and—subsequently—Jason got sidetracked by his own vices.
This album is his personal narrative on death, struggle, and addiction, of a life deconstructed and reassembled. From the opener, “The Smoke and the Stars,” it’s apparent this album, produced by Andy Freeman, will take you to compelling new places. An ache, a longing, claws its way out of the speakers, the gradual drone blossoming through without rigid genre designs. You can hear the essence of classical music in a long crescendo; you can feel his Houston upbringing in JHH’s soulful and humid inflection; you can sense his Los Angeles home in the sharp and risky dynamics. You can also hear the joy and exquisite desperation when he swings for the fences, belting “Maybe I was just waiting for you, to get through the grapevine, tear down that door, and let me live in those green eyes of yours.”
Harris has composed one of the best country albums of the year and helped Bloodshot continue its hot streak of debut records from its stable of the finest talents in the genre.
A master’s degree in music was at one time a viable option for you. Though you ended up not going that route, I’m curious about what formal or classical music education you’ve had.
Yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree – from a small, liberal arts college in Southern California called Biola University -- in music composition with an emphasis in voice. That’s the level I stopped at. I applied and was wait-listed for the master’s program at UCLA, but I just decided I didn’t want to go that route.
Do you play more than guitar on this album?
Uh, let’s see…I played some percussion; I played most of the guitars, though there were a few of those parts I didn’t play. I played somepiano, but for the most part, anything that wasn’t guitar…I wanted killer players on this record and had them in studio. So the piano and percussion stuff I did was after the fact and just to fill in space.
A couple of the songs have a classical or orchestral feel to them, particularly the first and last cuts. Can you describe how you and (producer) Andy Freeman went about arranging and producing this album? You obviously had some really good players; how much of this was done live?
As far as the arranging goes, I’m the most anal about that sort of stuff. So usually when I go in the studio I have a really good idea what I want to do. And I’ll throw it to Andy, and he’ll be like the fine-toothed comb; he’ll say, “Well, I like this, but this part needs to shine a little bit more,” you know? Andy is really good at unlocking the creativity in the people he’s producing. And sometimes he’ll just let me go nuts, like I did at the end of “Grandfather,” and bring out all the classical chops and orchestral training.
A lot of the album was recorded live. Even the base tracks for “Grandfather were recorded live; obviously the strings and the percussion and xylophone were not. “I’m Afraid” is one whole, live take.
Speaking of the opening song: I believe a dream about being in a room full of snakes inspired “The Smoke and the Stars.” Someone with green eyes comes to your rescue, but by then the snakes are a metaphor for something else, aren’t they?
Mmm? I don’t know. Maybe. My thing is when I’m writing like that, I’m not just writing metaphors. And I don’t like metaphors that have to work too hard. So I’m just writing as if the subject is real.
You’ve not made a secret of the fact that you struggled with substance abuse during the making of this album. If you don’t mind elaborating, which were your poisons of choice, and what are your physical and spiritual states as you approach your release date?
I’ll just say this. I’m physically and spiritually more healthy than I’ve ever been. It’s something that I’m trying…trying not to think of as something that defines me, even knowing full well that it has an effect on me. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about drug of choice or low points or anything like that just yet. Maybe for the next record
“Giving In” is as positively an upbeat song about an addict’s relapse I can imagine, with imagery of a man’s using his wife’s wages when he goes out to fix. What went into writing this song?
Yeah. Not all of my songs are completely autobiographical. Most of them have a lot of me in them, though. “Giving In” is a character that’s kind of based on my mother and me. My mother was an alcoholic and an addict, and she was someone – and I’ve been around a lot of addicts in my life – who wanted to stop. She wanted to be sober more than any addict I’ve ever met. And she was just powerless to do so.
So it’s a combination of her journey and her struggles, and mine.
The line “I wish that where I am was where I’ve been” can be interpreted at least a couple of ways. Is someone looking ahead or backwards?
The way I was thinking about it was, “I wish that where I am now,” which is not sober and completely idiotic and drunk – I wish that was something I could look back on and say, “Oh man, remember when I used to get so f*cking drunk and I was a mess? That was so dumb.”
You’ve experienced a horrific level of family tragedy in a short time. It seems hackneyed to ask if the creative process was therapeutic, but there does seem to be a hopeful air to an album filled with really sad vignettes. Do you feel like making it helped you emerge in a better place?
Yeah, I think so. Hope is something that – even in the darkest times of the past five, six, seven years when the aforementioned tragedies took place – I never felt hopeless. It’s…I do believe in an afterlife and I believe that we’re all going there. And that gives me a lot of hope, even when I see the worst that life has to offer. Because I don’t think that it’s the end. And it’s okay if other people don’t believe that, but that happens to be where I fall on the spectrum of belief.
I kind of got that feeling, especially listening to the last song, which I’ll ask you about now. “Grandfather” is such a warm, big sweeping song. It’s literally otherworldly; I’m just not quitesure of the context. Did you have a near-death experience and see your granddad? The song has a church feel to it; is this how you envision Heaven? Or something else altogether?
I think I’d like to keep it open for people, because I wanted it to be – well, I wanted it to have an opiate feel, which is why I’m so vague about where I am in the first verse. And I think that’s important to the song’s ethos – that it has an air of mystery and the unknown. I think hope is the embrace of the unknown; it’s not something desperate and awful.
Apr 29, 2019
By Matthew Martin
I remember the first time I heard Caroline Spence. She was opening for John Moreland at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA. I was expecting to be blown away by Moreland, but was yet again extremely happy I got there for the opener. Caroline Spence opened and completely blew me away. I left feeling gut-punched, not only by Moreland, but by Spence. She sang incredible songs with a wonderful, strong voice.
On Spence's latest album, Mint Condition, she continues her strong streak of albums. There are songs for every mood and occasion, but one thing remains constant; Spence's perfect songwriting ability. The production on the album is also great. It allows Spence's voice and lyrics to be the star of the show. There isn't much flair in terms of added instruments or needless solos. Sure, they're there, but they add flavor rather than a distraction.
As for the songs themselves, I think these are some of Spence's greatest. She deals with trying to get out of town to turn your life around ("Angels or Los Angeles"). Or, she sings about the insecurity that comes with relationships and growing up ("Who Are You" and "Song About A City"). My favorite song on the album, "Sit Here and Love Me,” is at once crushing and beautiful. This perfect song about dealing with depression and the need to just have a loving ear and it caught my attention immediately; I continue to go back to it more and more. Sometimes the solution to any problem is to just love and be loved. It's beautiful and I hope if nothing else, you listen to this song intently.
Spence can also write a damn good, clever line with the best of em. On the great "Who's Gonna Make My Mistakes" Spence muses, "Talking to this man is like looking at an ashtray, something was there but there ain't much left..." Lines like that are strewn throughout the album here and there. You gotta pay attention and with Spence's voice, that isn't hard to do. She demands attention. She deserves your attention. Come for the voice, stay for the songwriting.
The album finishes with the title track, "Mint Condition." This song is a great representation of all that is Caroline Spence. At once beautiful, clever, and graceful, the song is a perfect way to end the album. Spence can write the hell out of a love song.
I think Spence is one of the songwriters we don't hear nearly enough about. She consistently puts out great albums and this album is no different. Go buy it. You won't be disappointed. Go see her when she comes near your town. She's worth every damn cent. I know I can't wait til she comes to D.C. so I can hear these brand new songs live.
Mint Condition is available Friday.
Feb 16, 2019
Oct 29, 2018
Sep 20, 2018
When you just got off Willie's bus
If you think country music evolved into whatever Thomas Rhett is, you're a:
Saturday night and the moon is out
I'm gonna head on over to the Twist & Shout
The entire crowd at a Parmalee concert
This train is bound for glory, this train...
If you're here for the memes and gifs and reviews and tolerate the wrestling humor...
Dancing to a mainstream country song like...
When your friend comes through with some John Moreland tickets
And finally, here's wishing all Kane Brown fans a wonderful day in the neighborhood!
Jun 18, 2018
Mar 26, 2018
Mar 17, 2018
Dec 27, 2017
We'll be posting a few individual contributor's "Best of 2017" lists this week.
Not all though - don't want anybody finding an error in my tally.... it's already official.
Anyway, here's my top 40 (only 20 counted toward FTM Top 20).
1. Tyler Childers - Purgatory
2. Turnpike Troubadours - A Long Way From Your Heart
3. Shinyribs - I Got Your Medicine
4. Lillie Mae - Forever and Then Some
5. Gregg Allman - Southern Blood
6. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
7. John Moreland - Big Bad Luv
8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sessions
9. The Steel Woods - Straw in the Wind
10. Vagabon - Infinite Worlds
11. Colter Wall - s/t
12. Daddy Issues - Deep Dream
13. Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface
14. Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 2
15. Drew Kennedy - At Home in the Big Lonesome
16. Steve Earle - So You Wannabe An Outlaw
17. Travis Meadows - First Cigarette
18. Kate Rhudy - Rock n' Roll Ain't For Me
19. Zephaniah OHora and the 18 Wheelers - This Highway
20. Lee Ann Womack - The Lonely, The Lonesome, and The Gone
21. Dori Freeman - Letters Never Read
22. Jason Eady - s/t
23. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - Youth Detention
24. JD McPherson - Undivided Heart & Soul
25. Hellbound Glory - Pinball!
26. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives - Way Out West
27. Sunny Sweeney - Trophy
28. Midland - On the Rocks
29. Parker McCollum - Probably Wrong
30. Greta Van Fleet - From the Fires
31. Chris Stapleton: From A Room: Volume 1
32. Valerie June - The Order of Time
33. John Baumann - Proving Grounds
34. Big KRIT - 4eva is a Mighty Long Time
35. Nicole Atkins - Goodnight Rhonda Lee
36. Kendrick Lamar - Damn.
37. Dalton Domino - Corners
38. Natalie Hemby - Puxico
39. Margo Price - All American Made
40. Pallbearer - Heartless
Oct 4, 2017
Usual disclaimer: This is just my top 20. The final list will be compiled from a staff vote. ~Trailer
1. Tyler Childers - Purgatory
2. Shinyribs - I Got Your Medicine
3. Lillie Mae - Forever and Then Some
4. Gregg Allman - Southern Blood
5. The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding
6. John Moreland - Big Bad Luv
7. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sessions
8. The Steel Woods - Straw in the Wind
9. Vagabon - Infinite Worlds
10. The Texas Gentlemen - TX Jelly
11. Colter Wall - s/t
12. Daddy Issues - Deep Dream
13. Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface
14. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - Youth Detention
15. Steve Earle - So You Wannabe An Outlaw
16. Zephaniah OHora and the 18 Wheelers - This Highway
17. Jason Eady - s/t
18. Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 1
19. Queens of the Stone Age - Villains
20. Kate Rhudy - Rock n' Roll Ain't For Me