Cold beer on a Friday night, driving down dirt roads with country girls in bikini tops, Daisy Dukes and painted-on jeans. Trucks. Tailgates.
That kind of sums up the state of country music these days. In fact, critics have documented this trend to hilarious/depressing effect in recent years (2013) and (2014).
Tulsa-based musician John Moreland, who will be in town for a performance at the Fayetteville Roots Festival next week, is pretty much the antithesis of that.
For Moreland, lyrics come first.
The songwriter got his start playing punk rock and hardcore during his high school days in Tulsa in the mid-2000s, but has embraced his Americana side in recent years. The change in style has allowed him to highlight his lyrics, that come with a depth you don’t find on the radio these days.
Moreland credited Steve Earl’s 2004 release The Revolution Starts Now as a moment that changed things for him musically after high school.
“I remember hearing the song “Rich Man’s War” and totally feeling like somebody just punched me in the chest,” Moreland recalled in an recent interview. “In hardcore, there might be great lyrics in a song but you have to read them off a piece of paper to know it.”
Since then, it has been Moreland’s work that has been doing the chest-punching.
Plenty of it is beautifully sad. Instead of pickup trucks and parties in the pasture, Moreland’s songs deal with everything from Baptist guilt to good old fashioned love and longing.
His 2013 release In The Throws was a breakout for Moreland, bowling over critics with his poignant lyrics and the beautifully emotive way in which he delivers them in his songs.
American Songwriter wrote that “those not familiar with the Oklahoma City singer-songwriter should remedy that pronto,” and No Depression called his songs “alchemy with words and music.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow may have said it best. “If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names,” Maddow posted to her Twitter account.
Around that time, the producers of the FX hit show Sons of Anarchy fell in love with Moreland as well. The show featured three of his songs in the 2013 season.
Moreland has had a pretty huge summer this year as well. His latest album, the April 2015 release High on Tulsa Heat, has been praised by critics, and he’s since toured with the likes of Jason Isbell and Dawes. He also has dates with with Patti Griffin coming up this fall.
We spoke to Moreland this week, who said he’s looking forward to performing at the Fayetteville Roots Festival this year. “I’ve heard great things about it, and the people that put it on,” he said.
For living as near to Fayetteville as he does, its surprising that Moreland has only played Fayetteville once, with Water Liars and local songwriter Phillip Faris at Nightbird Books in 2013.
“Yeah, I’ve always thought I should get over there more,” Moreland said. “My sister went to school there (at the University of Arkansas).”
Moreland and his music has another connection to Fayetteville. He posted recently on Facebook that seeing Fayetteville band The Paper Hearts (co-founded by the Flyer’s Todd Gill) perform in Tulsa when he was 16 also turned out to be an important moment musically for him.
We asked him about that this week as well.
“Yeah, I think that was the first time I ever saw someone playing that kind of music who didn’t sound like Toby Keith,” he said with a laugh. “Looking back, that show turned out to be a big deal for me.”
Moreland is set to perform on the main festival stage at the Fayetteville Town Center at 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28.
The 2015 Fayetteville Roots Festival takes place Aug. 27-30 at various locations around Fayetteville. Headliners include The Punch Brothers, JD McPherson, John Fullbright, I’m With Her, The Steel Wheels, Martha Scanlan, Smokey & The Mirror, and, of course, John Moreland.
Much of the festival is sold out, but tickets to a few events are still available. For more information, visit fayettevilleroots.com.