Title: “High on Tulsa Heat”
Artist: John Moreland
Release date: 2015
Favorite track: "Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars"
“High on Tulsa Heat” is a brilliantly sad country-folk record sprinkled with references to Tulsa, Oklahoma, my hometown. And, I can confirm how truly hot it gets there.
The album’s journey can be encapsulated in the lyrics to “Heart’s Too Heavy”
“You try to get high but your heart’s too heavy.”
Moreland is weighed down by lost and found love — something he poignantly compares to illness. While it might sound predictable, it’s anything but.
Moreland’s lyrics are detailed and specific, and he has the soulful vocals to carry them off.
“Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” is a lullaby of a song that captivates me every time I hear it. I like how the record starts in such a vulnerable place.
Moreland’s gravelly vocals perfectly execute the emotional rawness. The imperfections in his voice are what makes the lyrics relatable.
So darling let the charmers lean the room
Let ‘em have that Nashville moon
I want to know exactly who you are
Then hang me in the Tulsa county stars
— “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars”
“Heart’s Too Heavy” picks up where “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” leaves off. Both songs allude to a heavy heart with a twang, though this one more bluesy than the latter.
After the first pair of tracks, I wondered if this is the ultimate wallow album to wallow with. “Cleveland County Blues” confirms it is.
My baby is a tornado in the endless Oklahoma sky
Spinning devastation and singing me a lullaby
And you’re wreckin’ all the rooftops when April turns to May
Wouldn’t make a difference if I could or couldn’t stay
— “Cleveland County Blues”
But it’s more than that. It’s the ultimate album to think a little too hard, too. It’s there if you need to get lost in your thoughts and never find your way back.
Cleveland County is another county in central Oklahoma. The frequent references to the Oklahoma sky remind me of home. I picture the starry night sky at my parents’ house — far removed from any tall buildings or lights to rival the stars.
“White Flag” perpetuates this four-song stream of tracks that flow seamlessly into each other. Moreland emits Neil Young vibes from the get-go.
I’ve featured Moreland’s 2017 album, “Big Bad Luv,” in my column. I remember referring to his lyrics as the truest definition of poetry, and this album is no different.
One of my favorite aspects of Moreland’s lyricism is how he approaches opposites, such as “you’re the exception here, I’m the rule” in “Sad Baptist Rain” and “speak up to be quiet” in “Losing Sleep Tonight."
“Sad Baptist Rain” is the first to deviate from the slow pace. While I love a solid somber song, it was refreshing.
The subject matter still isn’t optimistic, but Moreland sings in a more matter-of-fact manner. The music also indicates light at the end of a tunnel.
These are my favorite lyrics.
Young and hungry, dark blue and clumsy
Dumb enough to let you go
Outside the show, drinkin’ Nyquil and honey
Tryin’ to conjure up some rock and roll
— “Sad Baptist Rain”
“Cherokee” returns to the solace. “You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry” is a self-explanatory song title.
The album concludes with the title track, "High on Tulsa Heat" — a song I interpreted to allude to the up-and-down nature of life. First, it alludes to getting high on love, then descending back into one of life's many rough patches, or lyrically "broken ground."
I don’t recommend putting on this record to celebrate a good day.
I don’t find this album art indicative of what’s inside the sleeve — at least not upon first look. Upon first glance, I saw an industrial style that doesn’t match up to the rough road that is this record.
But, after a deeper gaze, the font alludes to an old-school Oklahoma that's pitted against an impressionistic, emotionally colored backdrop.