Title: “In the Throes”
Artist: John Moreland
Release date: 2013
Favorite track: “3:59 AM”
I thought I would follow up John Moreland’s 2015 album, “High on Tulsa Heat,” with his earlier one, “In the Throes.”
The album title seems appropriate. With each gloomy folk-rock record, it feels as if Moreland is digging a ditch with a spoon. This sometimes hopeless struggle has never sounded better.
His flawed, gravelly vocals are what authenticate his somber storytelling.
Moreland doesn’t feel the need to start his records with a bang. Instead, he chooses something closer to a pitter-patter.
I adore the name of the first song, “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am,” and the way his voice deepens as he sings the same lyric. The opening track has matter-of-fact lyrics that sum up humanity’s seemingly perpetual identity crisis. Love, loss, faith — he covers it all in one song.
Well babe, I’m afraid I lost it before you knew I had it
Boxes full of dust are falling from the attic
I threw my love into the ocean and I found it in the sand
And I need you to tell me who I am
— “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am”
“Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore” has the country flair ingrained inside Moreland’s perspective. That perspective, paired with a shout-out to Tulsa, Oklahoma, makes for a song I can dig.
Moreland knows how to spin the struggle of love into a song. “Blacklist” harbors one of my favorite lyrics: “Just tell me you don’t love me, and I promise I won’t darken your doorstep again.”
With every song, I’m more comfortable with my impression that Moreland is a mere shadow of a person — someone who feels like a burden to his lovers and the world.
“3:59 AM” is by far the best on the record. Moreland’s husky vocals smooth out; the music is a lovely combination of passionate and hopeful; and the lyrics are as poignant and heartfelt as ever.
I had a purpose and a song that was true
But I ain’t ever had a lick of sense when it comes to you
— “3:59 AM”
“Break My Heart Sweetly” is the song for when you can’t let go of someone. The lyrics are about a love he keeps going back to. While I’m not personally in this place, I can see it being the most easily relatable on the record.
“Oh Julia” speeds up the pace. Songs with names in the title are a guilty pleasure of mine, so this is a natural win. If you’re a fan of crooning a woman’s name or Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” you can appreciate this song.
Much of this record is about faith. God comes up frequently, namely in “God’s Medicine” and “Gospel.”
As in “3:59 AM,” Moreland coaxes listeners with a deeper register to his voice in “Gospel.” This is a beautiful song.
In many of the tracks, he alludes to not yet being a man. “Gospel” defines the man he wants to be.
I wanna ask all the questions with answers we’ll never know
I wanna find my faith in records from long ago
I wanna set fear on fire and give dreaming a fair shot
And never give up whether anybody cares or not
The vintage aesthetic of the cover indicates the album’s old-fashioned style of storytelling songwriting. The photograph of a crooked house seems representative of the unsteady nature of Moreland’s life.