Review: Moreland brings quiet dignity to elegant new set

July 21, 2022 GMT
This image released by Old Omens/Thirty Tigers shows "Birds in the Cieling" the latest record by John Moreland. (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers via AP)
This image released by Old Omens/Thirty Tigers shows "Birds in the Cieling" the latest record by John Moreland. (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers via AP)
This image released by Old Omens/Thirty Tigers shows "Birds in the Cieling" the latest record by John Moreland. (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers via AP)
This image released by Old Omens/Thirty Tigers shows "Birds in the Cieling" the latest record by John Moreland. (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers via AP)
This image released by Old Omens/Thirty Tigers shows "Birds in the Cieling" the latest record by John Moreland. (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers via AP)

“Birds in the Ceiling” by John Moreland (Old Omens/Thirty Tigers)

John Moreland has more questions than answers these days, and he’s OK with that.

On his new album, “Birds in the Ceiling,” Moreland presses ahead in the gentle, thoughtful style that has distinguished the Oklahoma native from other Americana artists through six albums now. There aren’t many “aha” moments, much less happy endings, but Moreland brings a quiet dignity to this nine-song set, adding intriguing new layers to an already impressive body of work.

He steps back from some of the synthesized bells and whistles he dabbled with on his last album. Those sounds occasionally distracted from the majestically stripped-down style that has long set Moreland apart from the rest of the singer-songwriter pack.

There’s more piano here than last time, but John Calvin Abney’s playing only enhances the elegant vibe. That’s especially true on a love song called “Neon Middle June,” built around a dreamscape of a track Abney put down when he didn’t know he was being recorded.

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At the foundation of it all is the sound Moreland’s still perfecting, in this case a moody blend of guitar, piano and a voice that conveys openness and intimacy even if it’s shaped by sandpaper. He has enough command to slow the listener’s metabolism to a near stop, which could be a downer in less talented hands. But Moreland, endlessly exploring, never quite surrenders to the negativity.

“Let a bird be a bird, let a train be a train, let the sky be the sky, and let the rain be the rain,” he sings on the title cut. “Let a curse be a curse, let a blessing be a blessing, Death alone is certain, but life is a beautiful question.”

It’s a line that could stand as Moreland’s mission statement. It makes his music feel like a walk through a Zen garden.

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