Written by James Killen
The Heights Theater is still one of my favorite Houston venues for sound and selection of talent flowing through town. Friday night, one of the latest wave of poignant Oklahoma songwriters, John Moreland, occupied that stage. The last time that I saw him was in 2013 at the Ashford Pub in West Houston for a muscular dystrophy benefit with probably fewer than 50 people passing through the venue during the evening. I remember that his songs and presentation were rivetingly real. It was good to see that he filled up this venue for this tour.
Opening the evening’s show was a young songwriter by the name of T Hardy Morris. He had a unique style that was someplace between indy rock and straight ahead country, kind of like Hank Williams with a Kurt Cobain tweak. They opened up sans percussion on “Cheating Life and Living Death” with pedal steel and a strategically distorted lead guitar. The drummer then came up for “The Night Everything Changed”, “OK Corral”, and an ode to teenage angst, “Audition Tapes”. Morris and his bass player sang with some well blended harmonies on “I’d Just as soon Stay Home”, “I Blame Me on You” and “NY” while the lead guitar waned psychedelic. This gentleman quite obviously could write a lyric or two and he has 3 discs out to date. He is well worth checking out.
John Moreland took the stage accompanied by a talented guitarist and pianist named John Calvin Abney and broke immediately into “Sallisaw Blue” from Big Bad Luv. I was immediately impressed with Moreland’s strong voice and confident chords as he moved on to “Old Wounds”, “Oh, Julia”, and “You Were the Lie I Chose to Believe”. The stark honesty of John’s lyrics will freeze you in your tracks.
There were no long talks between songs as the songs said it all. He continued on with “Heart’s Too Heavy” and Abney switched to keyboards for “Gospel”. Moreland reached back to 2011’s “Earthbound” (no longer in print) for “Avalon” about life in a small town. Abney really kicked out a nice piano solo on “It Don’t Suit Me Like Before” and another for “You Don’t Care Enough for Me to Cry”.
The lyrics kept piercing me through the chest like darts to the heart with “Blacklist”, the harmonica rich “Love is Not an Answer”, “Sad Baptist Rain” with Abney’s Telecaster solo, “3:59AM” and the emptiness of nostalgia personified in “American Flags in Black and White”. Every song rang true, finishing his set with “Nobody Gives a Damn about Songs Anymore.”, “God’s Medicine”, “Cherokee” and “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am”. The encore was “Break My Heart Sweetly” sung with naked emotion displayed for all to feel.
It was another fine evening at the Heights Theater. Both artists brought powerful lyrics to their performances served up with tasty instrumental chops. There was a no nonsense style to John Moreland’s performance that speaks to his ability to depict life’s situations in all of the complexity of feelings that rest just below the surface of what appears to be simple existence. I currently own all of Moreland’s recordings and anxiously await his next one. Treat yourself to some John Moreland. You won’t be disappointed.