John Moreland’s “Spotify Sessions” is Perfect Introduction to a World-Class Songwriter


Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

If you’ve been hearing about this heartbreaking songwriter named John Moreland for the last few years and been waiting for the right time to check him out, this would be the perfect opportunity—if you have a Spotify account that is.

There’s a nasty rumor out there that Saving Country Music has an unfavorable mind of John Moreland, and nothing could be further from the truth. Out of 20 possible review points to assign to his last two studio albums—In The Throes and High On Tulsa Heat—Moreland has been awarded 19 of them, with the only reservation being that the production behind some of his songs leaves a little bit to be desired.

This qualifying point isn’t meant as a knock on Moreland’s music, or a desire to see him adopt a polished or commercial sound. It’s more a friendly suggestion. And the production issues may not even be Moreland’s fault. Undoubtedly, John Moreland is one of the great songwriters of our time, and you can feel confident in this opinion because so many of the other great songwriters of our time—folks like Jason Isbell and others—are quick to concur.

john-moreland-spotify-sessionsBut some of the issues with Moreland’s studio production have been that it’s neither here nor there. Songwriters like Moreland are the hardest to capture in the studio because the music tends to be at its best in the raw form, yet you feel like you must add a little more musical raiment to songs to justify a proper studio release. So with an artist like Moreland, you don’t want to make a full rock album, but you don’t want to leave him naked out there either.

Traditionally many steer clear of live albums and acoustic albums, and albums of previously-released material unless they’re hardcore fans. So in theory John Moreland’s Spotify Sessions recorded during SXSW 2016 starts off with three strikes already against it. But in Moreland’s case, this release might be his best yet, and just about the perfect introduction for someone whose heard the name before, but not the music.

Moreland arguably selects his greatest songs and performs them in the same simple way he does every night out tour, hushing rooms with the sheer power of story, employing a voice that is perfect for the forlornness he sings about, and displaying surprising alacrity with his acoustic guitar. This intimate element is where John Moreland and his music thrives—live and alone, sitting on the stage in front of a microphone, bearing his soul with sheer honesty and brutality. And it’s this element that has won him so many loyal fans.

When John Moreland appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, they knew to not do anything more than to provide him a microphone and a chair. That’s right, Moreland has now appeared on Colbert, Spotify selected him out of the crowd to do this session, and Moreland recently got married (and his wife is probably hotter than most of ours).

People have fallen in love with John Moreland because he’s such the anti-star, and that’s one of the reasons his fans are so loyal, and so quick to defend when someone has a critical observation. But soon, if not already, he’s not just going to be an artist for those few open-minded diehard followers of heartbreaking singer-songwriters, but for anyone who’s a fan of good songs.