Falling somewhere between Jason Isbell and Tom Waits, Oklahoma singer/songwriter John Moreland sure does have a way with a song. Much like Isbell’s Southeastern before it, Moreland’s new High on Tulsa Heat explores the writer’s inner world with startling honesty. While it relinquishes regret, it refuses to forsake remorse because that’s where the healing happens. Also like Southeastern, there’s nothing extraneous on this record, nothing that feels out of place or out of time — Moreland’s roughly hewn tales delivered with finely tuned grit in both voice and feeling.
Even so, there’s a deliberate and determined poise to Moreland’s work. He’s looking for something and these verses are his roadmap… and he knows it. Sings about it, even: “Well, these angels in my eardrums, they can’t tell bad from good. I lived inside these melodies just to make sure I still could. Then I cried all night even though I’m grown. Said, ‘Honey, hold me close, make it feel like home.’” That’s how he opens the album’s second cut, the slow-rocking “Heart’s Too Heavy.” Later in the tune, he really gets down to what’s bothering him… on the one hand: “You’ve got faith enough to lift this curse. But what if faith is just a false god’s verse?” And, then, also on the other: “I can pin down the minute when I lost my buzz. Thought I was somebody nobody could love.”
He digs further into those themes throughout the soulful groove of “Sad Baptist Rain,” where he proclaims, “You’re the exception here. I’m the rule. I traded love for a song, like a fool. I’m always drawn to the wrong thing to do and I keep proving it.” You see, High on Tulsa Heat is an exploration of home — whether spiritual, emotional, or geographical. Maybe every album is, in its own way or another. But what Moreland does with these songs is so thoroughly sincere, it is undeniably relatable. Who among us hasn’t, at some point, found themselves feeling the sorrowful ache that he describes “You Don’t Care For Me Enough to Cry”?