On Big Bad Luv singer-songwriter John Moreland introduces some romantic optimism into his dusky Americana sound | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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On Big Bad Luv singer-songwriter John Moreland introduces some romantic optimism into his dusky Americana sound

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I’d never spent any time seriously listening to the music of Oklahoman John Moreland until I got a copy of his new album Big Bad Luv (4AD), but in some ways I feel like I’ve been listening to him most of my life. His work is shot through with the influence of various deeply American singers, whether Bruce Springsteen or Steve Earle, and his dusky blend of folk, country, and blues—all filtered through a rock sensibility—sounds as familiar as rain falling. He rips through his new record’s songs with a sense of weary passion, a soul beaten down but fueled by romantic optimism and a little recklessness. On the storming opener, “Sallisaw Blue,” he declaims, “Let’s get wrecked and bruised and battered,” summoning carpe-diem courage in spite of life’s obstacles and pitfalls. On his previous albums Moreland wrote often of heartbreak, but the new album shifts toward a sunnier disposition as he pours out his emotions to convey something beyond greeting-card bliss. To wit: “Love Is Not an Answer” doesn’t dismiss the titular sentiment, but expresses something more basic when he sings, “But love is not an answer / I don’t need an answer, I need you.” Moreland situates his husky voice in a variety of Americana settings, some which plod generically, but at his best his elemental melodic shapes fit the scuffed hope of his words. Though the record features a scrappy band, for tonight’s performance Moreland is joined only by guitarist-pianist John Calvin Abney.   v

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